- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Some of the region's mail that is being sanitized against anthrax is arriving slightly damaged and discolored from the irradiation technology that the U.S. Postal Service is testing.
But postal officials say the contents of those discolored envelopes are undamaged and the general public need not be concerned.
"There is some heat generated during the process, and that has resulted in some isolated discoloration," said Bob Anderson, spokesman for the Postal Service.
While the agency is aware that irradiation has caused this type of damage, Mr. Anderson said, the Postal Service has, so far, received no complaints from customers.
In one instance, a window-envelope that underwent sanitation had turned pale yellow, as if had been stored for years. The writing both inside and outside was legible, but the plastic strip covering the receiver's address had shrunk to a third of its normal size, and the texture of the paper was rough.
The irradiation technology, provided by Titan Corp. of San Diego, is in the testing phase. Mail that requires sanitation is driven in truckloads to a plant in Lima, Ohio, where Titan performs the cleansing.
The Postal Service purchased eight irradiation machines to be used in post offices in the Washington area, but the technology has not yet been installed, as the agency is still choosing sites, Mr. Anderson said.
Eventually, the entire nation's mail will undergo sanitation. But first, the Postal Service has to settle on a permanent technology, as Titan's irradiation machines may not be used, Mr. Anderson said.
For now, the Postal Service is irradiating only mail directed to the federal government, media outlets and postal offices in Washington, as well as mail that had piled up in the New Jersey and Washington post offices where anthrax was found.
"So the ordinary citizen doesn't have to worry [about damage], because their mail is probably not going to get irradiated," Mr. Anderson said. "Because they are probably not sending cookies to the federal government, or the media, or the Postal Service."
For now, raw film is the only product known to be damaged by irradiation; products such as credit cards, CDs and videotapes are safe, Mr. Anderson said.
But because irradiation's primary use has been to sterilize medical equipment and kill bacteria in foods, the process' effect on any other products is still unknown. The Postal Service has said some prescription drugs may be damaged by irradiation.
The Postal Service has been in talks for the past six weeks with numerous industries, including photography-related companies, drug makers, credit-card issuers, electronics manufacturers and food makers, to discuss safety.
Jim Blamphin, spokesman for Eastman Kodak, said the agency has been extremely helpful and cooperative.
"We are through an industry alliance working with the postal authorities to find ways to safeguard photo-sensitive materials that pass through the mail," he said, adding that Eastman Kodak has had no complaints about damaged film.
The company does most of its mailing through express services such as FedEx and UPS, he said. But when consumers mail their film for developing, they sometimes use the Postal Service.
Postal officials met with the General Accounting Office and the House Government Reform Committee Dec. 10 to discuss which mail-sanitation technology the Postal Service should use. But no decisions were made in the closed-door meeting, said Michael Layman, legislative assistant for Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Government Reform Committee.
"If a technology is to be used, it will probably be some sort of mail irradiation," Mr. Layman said. "The Postal Service has already purchased eight irradiation machines and invested that much money in them, so they would like to put them to some use."
The brainstorming session resulted in a few suggestions for new mail-safety measures, he said. One idea was to put windows on all envelopes. Another was to set up a stamp buyers' identification system.
More complex suggestions involved the creation of a "track-and-trace" system, where the Postal Service would be able to track packages throughout their journeys. Another proposal was to use different mail streams for different types of mail, so film, for instance, would not follow the same mailing process as a random consumer's credit-card payment, Mr. Layman said.

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