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In response to two letters that were addressed to Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that were laced with anthrax in the early fall of 2001, the U.S. Postal Service contracted with two irradiation companies to have all mail addressed to federal agencies located in the Washington, DC area irradiated prior to delivery.
Public Citizen had warned the Postal Service at the time that irradiation was not the answer to the anthrax problem. Nevertheless, the Postal Service went ahead and then also purchased eight irradiation machines at a cost of $40 million from the Titan Corporation that were delivered in early 2002. Those machines were never installed due to problems with the technology that included destruction of mail being subjected to the irradiation process, health problems contracted by those handling the irradiated mail, and the slowing of mail delivery.
While irradiation of mail addressed to federal agencies in the Washington, DC area is still being done by an outside firm, the Postal Service began testing in May 2003 equipment to detect anthrax and other biological agents that may be intentionally introduced to contaminate the mail and may in the future abandon mail irradiation.
According to the U.S. Postal Service as of September 30, 2003, they have no plans to irradiate all U.S. mail. Because of the enormous power necessary to run the irradiation equipment, if they did irradiate all U.S mail it would require that they have their own nuclear power plant to generate enough electricity. The original eight irradiation machines purchased, to the tune of $40 million, from Titan/Surebeam were never installed because they were underpowered. USPS has no current plans for their use.
The Postal Service still has a contract with the company Ion Beam Applications (IBA) to treat mail addressed to federal agencies in Washington, DC. The future is uncertain as to whether the federal government will continue to have its mail irradited.
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