Agencies looking to buy mail-cleaning devices

The U.S. Postal Service and a handful of other federal agencies are negotiating to buy machines that would kill micro-organisms such as mail-borne anthrax by irradiating envelopes and packages, according to government and industry sources. The Postal Service is testing the effectiveness of irradiation, and has sent samples of mail to be irradiated to a private facility, said spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp. He said the agency wants to deploy the technology "as quickly as possible" at key mail processing facilities, but declined to say how many facilities might receive the machines. Rod Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing for BioSterile Technology, a Fort Wayne, Ind., manufacturer of irradiation equipment, says his company is "in negotiations" with the Postal Service, the Defense Department, the Secret Service and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to sell its device. Wilson met with senators Thursday to brief them about the company's products. Jim Mackin, a spokesman for the Secret Service, wouldn't say whether the agency is negotiating to buy irradiation equipment, but he said the Secret Service stays in constant contact with equipment manufacturers. The Secret Service screens and processes its mail, as well as mail destined for the White House, at a remote site, Mackin said. The Food and Drug Administration, which approves the use of irradiation to decontaminate medical devices and some foods, is "looking into what the efficacy of different kinds of irradiation would be against anthrax," according to Brad Stone, an agency spokesman. Irradiation devices emit highly energized beams of atomic particles, often in the form of x-rays and gamma rays, to disrupt the chemical structure of an organism, killing its cells. Microwaves, ozone in liquid or gas form, and ultraviolet light will also kill micro-organisms, but ultraviolet light is too weak to penetrate the surface of an envelope or package. Wilson said mail could be decontaminated by running it beneath an electron beam on a conveyor belt for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on the amount of mail being treated. BioSterile's device sells for $650,000, Wilson said, adding that while he didn't know how many machines a given agency might deploy, one would not be enough to treat all mail at a typical Postal Service center. Wilson said it would take four to eight months under BioSterile's current production schedule to have a device ready for deployment, but added that the company is going into a mass production mode. Kreienkamp said the Postal Service is evaluating X-ray and gamma ray technologies. The agency would write a new contract to buy the equipment, he said, adding that some funding would be available from a $200 million emergency spending package approved by the Postal Service Board of Governors. It's doubtful any existing government contractors sell the technology needed to decontaminate the mail. Irradiation is commonly used to sanitize medical products, but according to Robert McKenna, director of materiel management for the Veterans Affairs Department, government medical facilities don't currently use gamma rays for decontamination. Rather, McKenna said, equipment is cleaned with high-pressure steam or chemicals, which would likely damage mail. Another option might be to screen mail for the presence of biological agents. Frank Thibodeau, business development manger for biological detection device manufacturer Bruker Daltonics of Billerica, Mass., says both civilian and defense agencies have contacted the company in the past few weeks to learn about options for screening mail. Thibodeau said the company's biological and chemical detection devices could sense the presence of anthrax or other agents on the surface of or inside mail. The company sells its biological detector for $218,000 on the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedule, a set of pre-negotiated contracts awarded to multiple companies that any agency can use to make quick purchases of goods and services. However, Bruker is currently selling its devices at full capacity on a contract with the Defense Department, Thibodeau said, so it's unlikely the company could deliver its detectors to other agencies immediately. The chemical detectors aren't sold through the schedules, Thibodeau said. Officials from the Defense Department and the Los Alamos National Laboratory did not respond to requests for comments.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.