- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

As this page reported on Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service has managed to tie down a red-blooded patriot with red tape. Frankie Mayo, the founder of Operation Air Conditioner, had 300 donated air conditioners on a tractor-trailer and ready to be shipped to the heat-suffering U.S. soldiers in Iraq, when the Postal Service abruptly pulled the plug.

Having already shipped about 200 air conditioners, USPS representatives suddenly claimed to have discovered that the units contain freon, and so posed a shipping hazard. In response to our inquiries, Azeezaly Jaffer, the Postal Service’s vice president of public affairs and communications, argued yesterday in a letter to the editor that we only provided “half the story.”

His letter contained a large number of lacunas that should be filled. Mr. Jaffer did not say it, but Mrs. Mayo was initially told that the reason her shipments were stopped was because they contain freon — a category class 2.2 compressed gas. However, the first President Bush banned the production of chloroflurocarbons like freon over a decade ago. According to the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of the units obtained by The Washington Times, they actually contain Genetron-22, also known as R-22 or chlorodifluoromethane. It is something the USPS would have known had it followed the procedures that all parties in the shipping business are supposed to follow.

R-22 is a category 2 compressed gas, which simply means that more paperwork may be required for shipping them internationally. Specifically, ocean and air freight shippers must follow the guidelines in the International Air Transportation Association Dangerous Goods Regulation manual. However, that manual exempts refrigerating machines containing less than 12 kg of category class 2.2 substances, which should allow Mrs. Mayo’s machines to travel unrestricted.

Mr. Jaffer claimed in his letter that “it was not our intention to interfere with her commendable efforts,” but the faceless bureaucrat behind the decision must have known that it would bring her work to an abrupt stop. Perhaps most egregiously, the USPS claimed that it was “only with the greatest regret that we shared this information with Mrs. Mayo,” but she claims she was notified at 4:50 p.m. Friday — just in time to miss the weekend news cycle.

Mrs. Mayo will go through the private sector to make sure that Army privates have as much access to air conditioning as USPS brass, but there will still be a great deal of expense and red tape involved. Readers can express their outrage to Postmaster John Potter by phone (202/268-2020), fax (202/268-5211) or e-mail (www.usps.com/common/contact_us/ and click on consumer feedback). The problem could be completely solved if a more efficient branch of the government — the Defense Department — took a more active hand by using one of its cargo planes to send the air conditioners to Iraq.

Operation Air Conditioner (www.operationac.com) has already saved lives. When offered one of Mrs. Mayo’s machines, Capt. Jeannie Padgett, a critical care nurse with the Army in Iraq, declined, asking instead for medical supplies. They arrived just in time to be used by Capt. Padgett to treat victims of the U.N. building bombing. For that reason alone, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should consider ordering an airlift of the air conditioners.



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