- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

U.S. Postal Service officials and representatives from one of the companies hired to irradiate government mail in the wake of the anthrax attacks say there is no evidence that the process creates a health risk.
Some congressional staffers in recent days have reported headaches and irritated eyes and skin after handling mail.
Since an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in October in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's Hart Senate Office Building office, all mail adressed to congressional offices and federal government agencies in the District has been sent for irradiation at one of two companies contracted by the U.S. Postal Service.
The mail goes to Titan Scan Technologies in Lima, Ohio, or the Ridgeport, N.J., warehouse of Chicago-based Ion Beam Applications Inc., where it is treated with electron-beam and X-ray technology, which kills anthrax, according to Postal Service spokesman Jerry Kreienkamp.
The Postal Service and representatives from Titan Scan Technologies yesterday told The Washington Times that there has been "no evidence" that the irradiation process poses any health risk.
Wil Williams, a spokesman for Titan Scan Technologies, said the mail is simply going through the same sterlization process that medical supplies go through before being packaged and sent to hospitals. "When medical people open up cartons of supplies that have been irradiated, they don't get sick," he said. "After a decade of using this process worldwide, all of a sudden somebody [in Washington] is saying there are health consequences."
He said any odor coming from the mail likely is given off by extensive biohazard packaging used by the Postal Service to prevent the spread of potential anthrax when the mail is shipped to Titan.
"It just doesn't make sense," he said. "Either they're getting sick from something else or it's mass hysteria."
Also skeptical about the health risk involved with handling irradiated mail is Environmental Protection Agency national Ombudsman Robert J. Martin, who last week accused the EPA of not adequately testing air inside the congressional buildings after the toxic chemical chlorine dioxide was used to kill lingering anthrax spores.
Mr. Martin's chief investigator, Hugh B. Kaufman, yesterday said he suspects that toxic traces from such byproduct gasses as hydrochloric acid may be the cause of illness among congressional staffers.
The Roll Call newspaper reported Monday that staffers in at least six Senate offices have complained of headaches, nausea and a tingling sensation in their fingers after handling irradiated mail. Some handling the mail have said the protective gloves they use sometimes have a yellow stain after they go through a number of letters.
Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, in a letter Friday to Mr. Daschle, said her chief of staff reported a burning sensation on his hands after going through his mail, and her office manager complained of eye, nose and throat irritation, plus headaches, a metallic taste and a burning sensation on her hands and face.
Mrs. Feinstein's complaint sparked the formation of a task force led by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt to investigate health concerns among those handling the irradiated mail.
Earlier this month, a dispute over the safety of irradiated mail became apparant when at least 11 workers at the Commerce Department in the Herbert C. Hoover Building complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation after touching irradiated mail.
A D.C. Fire Department spokesman said a package of copier paper that was tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a bad smell when opened. However, federal law enforcement authorities responding to the scene said the workers were suffering from little more than "mass hysteria" and that an inspection of the building done by a hazardous-materials team found no toxic materials.
Trevor Francis, a spokesman at the Commerce Department, yesterday said there have been no other incidents since and "the leading theory is still that irradiated mail had caused a couple of people to feel ill."
That's not possible, according to EPA investigator Mr. Kaufman.
"I'll tell you, it's not coming from irradiated mail," he said.

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