Today, upon going to the mailbox, I noticed several interesting letters in there. They were all in seperately sealed plastic bags. Turns out, this mail had gone through the Hamilton, New Jersey post office that was the originating office for the anthrax-filled letters that had been sent around the United States following the September 11 attacks. It also happens to be only 7 miles from my house, give or take a few.

We had heard that they were going to irradiate mail sent through there, and today it showed up. The most interesting part was the letter from the Postal Service on the back of the bag. It is included below:

Dear Postal Customer:

The mail that is being delivered in this bag has been irradiated at a facility in Bridgeport, New Jersey. The irradiation process used at the Bridgeport facility was tested and found to be effective in destroying anthrax by an interagency team of scientific experts that recommend release of this mail for delivery. While the irradiation process is safe, it can affect some products that might be contained in this mail. The products on this list, if contined in a package or envelope that has been irradiated, should not be used. You should discard them and obtain replacements.

While the irradiation process successfully kills anthrax, if your mail contains any suspicious substances, we urge you to set it aside and contact local law enforcement authorities. This can help in the investigation.

The group of experts that tested the irradiation process was organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and included the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

We apologize for the delay in delivery of this mail and for any inconvenience that may have resulted. Our primary interest is to assure that this mail is safe before being delivered to you. More information is available at 1-800-ASK-USPS.

Thank you for understanding

Sincerely,
Thomas G. Day
Vice President, Engineering


By the way, the unopened mail went right into the trash as soon as I finished typing this.

They Wrote Upon It...

A Little Background Information

First of all, this author has completed thirty years in the United States Postal Service in various capacities, and knows mail processing and the mentality of management. The government bureacracy is just a fact of life in huge organizations, there are complications that compound any problems that arise. The understandable hesistancy to release information that causes worse situations than the one that they are hiding has been a typical government reaction, in all branches.

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

There has been an uproar over the treatment of Anthrax contaminated mail since it was discovered on a letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D). Part of the problem was the delay in getting CDC, or any Hazardous Test personnel to the Post Office facilities quickly to see if the mailstream was affected after the tainted envelope was discovered. The unfortunate tragedy of a mail processor (who works the automated sorting machines) was exponentially increased after his call for medical help as his lungs were failing, and his guess that the powder that went into the air poisoned him, but was told that he had cold or something, and to take an asprin and rest. The reality of his death of Anthrax then prompted officials to go to the Brentwood Mail Facility where he worked, and, of course, this was where they realized that U.S. Government Official mail was worked. The policy, which this author had protested many times, of using compressed air to blow out the debris from the machinery was now curtailed, nationwide. The workers were all then tested, given Cipro, and finally sent to the Suburban MD Facility to work their mail. (The outrage -- Senators were taken care of immediately, but the poor "grunts" were a distant second concern.)

The Check is in the Mail

Millions (Say it like Carl Sagan {or Barney}) of pieces of Mail from the Brentwood, Washington, District of Columbia station had to stay in the building while the experts tested and segregated the poisoned mail. Eventually it was shipped to the two companies that specialize in irradiation of food, One, of course is the one discussed above, in Bridgeport, New Jersey, and the other is in Lima, Ohio. (Home of the now famous glowing Lima Human Bean) They use an electron beam (Buck Rogers eat your heart out) that changes the ions in order to kill any living thing (as long as it is turned on powerfully.)

Finally other Washington offices were tested, and also Suburban MD passed, but not before the scare reached them, and Cipro was available, too. Millions of masks and gloves became available (they still are) and the oozing substance that called the Hazmat team there was pomegranate fruit juice from Israel. It was time to work the irradiated mail, delayed by many weeks.

The Stink of the Shrink

A temporary sorting facility was set up at 3025 V St. N.W. and when workers removed the shrink wrap -- noxious odors emanated -- causing the workers there to complain about dry throat, headaches, and nausea -- some to the vomiting point. Thank God no one was seriously injured, but one did get ER treatment. It seems that the plastic wrap after getting heated from the treatment created fumes that were mostly carbon monoxide. This noder has in his possession one of the blackend mail tray labels affected. I obtained it on December 13, 2001, but the date on the tag is 11/20. There is a new procedure to open the skids of shrink wrapped mail outside, and allowed to air out, as well as ventilation improvements, and the distress has terminated. The Postal Service is buying millions of dollars worth of this kind of irradiation equipment, even though they are now about 50 billion big ones in the hole.


Update: 2002.11.15 cbustapeck says re Irradiated Mail : "Could you clarify whether irradiation is still being used (I know you no longer work there...) I deal in antique books (part time) and I know people who have had very expensive antique books damaged due to irradiation, and the USPS won't tell me anything..."

To be on the safe side, I recommend that one uses lead foil to cover anything, if that is allowed.

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