- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Photography companies are meeting today with U.S. Postal Service officials to discuss the government's plan to test the use of radiation technology to rid the mail of anthrax.

Industry sources say that the same technology that could be used to destroy this form of bioterrorism also wreaks havoc on undeveloped film.

The meeting was set up with the chief engineer of the Postal Service "so that the industry can understand the postal process … to the extent that we can determine what options are available to us," said Jim Blamphin, spokesman for Eastman Kodak.

The Rochester, N.Y., company is preparing a package of its products to be shipped to Ohio, where what is believed to be anthrax-contaminated mail from Washington's Brentwood Road facility is being sanitized through irradiation.

Bacteria-laced mail from that facility led to the closure of numerous federal buildings in the past two weeks.

The postal Service purchased the irradiation equipment, which uses electron beams to sterilize objects, from Titan Corp., of San Diego, for $40 million. Eight of the machines will be installed at several local post offices and will begin sanitizing all regional mail.

The Postal Service chose Washington as the first location for testing this process because the anthrax attacks appeared to be directed, in part, at the government.

Kodak customers professional labs and photographers began calling Titan with concerns of the potential impact of the technology on film.

The Postal Service has not yet decided whether irradiation will be the ultimate technology of choice, agency spokesman Greg Frey said. For now, Titan's machines are simply being tested for their effectiveness.

"We have to find the technology that is most appropriate," Mr. Frey said.

The agency has not said if all mail letters and packages will be sanitized, or whether a separate protocol will be developed for things like CDs, videos, credit cards, pharmaceuticals and film, all of which could be damaged by radiation.

"We don't know anything about these irradiation machines," said Kit Putnam, owner of Black & White, a professional photo lab in Arlington. "Airports for some time have had X-ray-type radiation scans, and certain kinds of film are affected and others are not."

"There's nothing we can do once the damage is done," she said.

In theory, irradiation does not have to destroy film. But if the machine is using a high-dose of electron beams, then film would be exposed, said Titan spokesman Will Williams.

"It's a characteristic of the machine," he said. "It's the same as if you go to a hospital and stick a roll of film under the body scan it's going to get exposed."

Film processing industry players hope today's meeting will address topics like the dose of radiation, and whether the Postal Service is considering processing products like film in a different way, so that they avoid irradiation.

"We've been assured they'll take measures to protect the work," said Neil Cohen, president of District Photo, a film processing company in Beltsville. "They've been in touch with the whole industry."

"I'm always concerned when there's anything that can affect the mail," Mr. Cohen added. "But I'm confident that a solution will be reached."

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