Fw: NYTimes.com Article: The Irradiation of Mail Can Also Zap the Contents
- Subject: Fw: NYTimes.com Article: The Irradiation of Mail Can Also Zap the Contents
- From: "Jack Hirsch" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 17:09:54 -0800
Thought some might be interested in this...
Gary & Jack
Naylor Creek Nursery
>The Irradiation of Mail Can Also Zap the Contents
>January 11, 2002
>By JOHN SCHWARTZ
>Attempts by the United States Postal Service to make mail
>safer by zapping it with radiation have hit a snag: the
>process tends to destroy computer chips and to damage other
>delicate items including food, pharmaceuticals, clothing,
>contact lenses - and even the paper mail itself.
>"The irradiation process, as I understand it, generates
>heat, and that's the killer," said Bob Anderson, a
>spokesman for the Postal Service, in response to questions
>about the problem.
>That, of course, was the original idea: killing anthrax
>spores like the ones that were mailed to Congressional
>offices and to news media companies. In response, the
>Postal Service began to put mail to federal recipients and
>to some media companies through sterilizing machines.
>The Postal Service is currently trucking mail to be
>sanitized to temporary processing centers in Ohio and New
>Jersey, and has bought eight irradiation machines from the
>Titan Corporation (news/quote) of La Jolla, Calif., for $5
>million each. The machinery exposes the mail to potent
>beams of electrons - a technology that, on a less intense
>level, can be used to sanitize food.
>But something powerful enough to destroy hardy anthrax
>spores plays havoc with less hardy objects. Staff members
>in federal offices in Washington say that paper mail
>deteriorates under the treatment and that photographs are
>ruined: the mail, some of which has been delayed for months
>because of the anthrax worries, is "much like letters that
>were set aside and buried under a pile in someone's garage
>for three years," a Congressional aide said. Some of the
>mail in New Jersey has caught fire.
>This week the CompactFlash Association, which represents
>makers of memory cards used in digital cameras, personal
>computers and portable music players, warned that the beams
>"will not only cause loss of data stored on the cards, but
>the cards will no longer be operable."
>A spokesman for the association, Bill Frank, said other
>chips are also affected. "We've done some tests and this
>destroys the stuff," he said.
>Bill Calder, a spokesman for the chip maker Intel
>(news/quote), confirmed that many kinds of chips were at
>risk. "They're not wrong to say semiconductors could
>potentially be damaged," he said.
>That is not much of a problem right now, said Mr. Anderson
>of the Postal Service, because the scope of the federal
>mail-sanitizing program is currently limited to federal
>offices and some media companies. "It's really a nonissue,
>because Aunt Millie is not going to get her mail
>irradiated," he said, adding that the attacks were focused
>and so "our response is targeted" as well.
>Mr. Anderson said the Postal Service had called together a
>working group from affected industries - including shippers
>of high-technology goods, drugs, clothing and food - to
>test products and try to establish procedures for
>identifying mail that can be damaged by the beams, and to
>help those companies avoid the process.
>"We don't want to fry the mail," Mr. Anderson said. "That
>doesn't serve our customers." He said that the goal of the
>Postal Service was to deliver the mail "as safely and as
>economically as possible."
>A spokesman for Titan, Wil Williams, said the company had
>made the destructive potential of its technology clear to
>the Postal Service. The mass mailing and catalog companies,
>he said, already use presorting procedures that generally
>keep their mail from going through the sterilizing system.
>Paper tested by his company was not damaged, Mr. Williams
>said, but he added that the intense effort to sanitize so
>much mail could lead to varying results. "Every new process
>that we're doing that comes along, you have to take the
>nicks out of it and make it efficient," he said.
>Ultimately, the problems with mail-sanitizing technology
>may be diminishing in importance because of another mail
>technology, said David Carle, a spokesman for Senator
>Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. "Senator Leahy and
>his staff," he said, "noticed that a threshold was crossed
>in April of last year, when for the first time e-mail
>surpassed postal mail in volume. That process has been
>accelerated since the anthrax problem."
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