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[nafex] FW: [GWL]: Post Office drops irradiation

Here are excerpts from aWashington Post story dated March 9.
The Post Office is moving to a "non-invasive" method to check
for biohazards, eliminating potential use of radiation.

USPS Sees New Way to Spot Biohazards
Device in Mail Sorters Could Detect Anthrax Without a Lab

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 9, 2002; Page A13

The U.S. Postal Service plans to use a highly sophisticated technology 
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) -- to detect anthrax spores and other
biohazards in the mail virtually as it is being sorted, postal officials
announced yesterday.

The PCR technology is still being tested for adaptation to high-speed 
sorters, but by the end of September, USPS plans to sign a $200 million
contract to install the PCR systems at 292 facilities around the 
Chief Engineer Tom Day said.

The discovery that PCR, sometimes called "molecular photocopying," can 
used in automated fashion to help detect biohazards without waiting 24 
for a lab analysis has enabled the Postal Service to cut its projected 
to fight bioterror attacks. Last November, Postmaster General John E. 
asked Congress for $5 billion, about half of which was to be spent on
irradiation technology to kill bacteria such as anthrax spores in the 

The Postal Service plans to spend $245 million to retrofit its 
sorters, adding a system that will vacuum up air near the mail and feed 
through a filter to capture any harmful bacteria, Day said.

The agency is working with two firms that have developed PCR prototypes 
post offices. They operate slightly differently, but both capture air
samples sucked from mail and test the samples for biohazards. Bacteria 
as anthrax spores have specific DNA signatures. PCR is a general term 
for a
process that uses specific enzymes to amplify tiny quantities of DNA and
make a DNA match.

The air samples would be taken in half-hour intervals and tested. If a
biohazard is detected, the facility would be shut down, employees 
and the facility cleaned.

The systems will be able to detect eight biohazards, including anthrax
spores. Day said the Pentagon will not allow the others to be named.


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