Postal Service tries to allay irradiation fears

With mail delivery getting back to normal in Washington D.C., the Postal Service is trying to ease concerns that the very technology used to protect workers from bioterrorism may actually be causing them harm. "We understand that this has been a tense and worrisome time," Deborah Willhite, senior vice president for government relations and public policy at the Postal Service, said at a Jan. 30 press briefing. "People are on edge and that is justified. But we want to make sure that the mail is one less worry." Since October, when an anthrax-tainted letter made its way to Sen. Tom Daschle's, D-S.D., office, the Postal Service has been irradiating mail addressed to Washington-area federal offices. Mail for all three Washington branches is affected. Each day, between 300,000 and 350,000 pieces of mail are trucked from Landover, Md., to private facilities in Lima, Ohio, and Bridgeport, N.J., and exposed to high doses of electron beams. The same technology is used on food and medical devices, but at much lower doses. Newspaper reports in recent days have cited anecdotal accounts of Capitol Hill and agency workers suffering from nausea, rashes and headaches after handling mail coming back from Ohio and New Jersey. "It's been an issue for some of our folks at the Office of Personnel Management," said Milly Rodriguez, health and safety specialist at the American Federation of Government Employees. "Our local there had some complaints. OPM responded well and met with the local and had the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) do some air sampling and employee surveys. At this point, there is nothing to draw a direct correlation to the irradiated mail." That is exactly the message coming from Postal Service officials-the levels of gases coming off irradiated mail are below those deemed hazardous by NIOSH, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Willhite suggested there are other environmental factors contributing to the symptoms federal workers are exhibiting. For instance, there is more paper dust coming off the mail, largely because of a heavy backlog, and mail may become dry and flaky. Additionally, the agency packages mail returning from Ohio and New Jersey with odor-eaters to try and take away the smell caused by irradiation. "We are looking at bringing the levels (of irradiation) down," said Thomas Day, vice president of engineering at the Postal Service, adding that the dosage still has be high enough to kill anthrax spores or other biohazards. Rodriguez suggested that agencies and workers keep a log of when they develop symptoms. That will help determine how big a risk the mail presents.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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