Postal Service wants to build mail irradiation center

The Postal Service next week will begin assessing the merits of building a mail irradiation facility in Washington to scan all mail addressed to the area's federal offices.

Currently, all mail addressed to Washington-area agencies is collected at a postal facility in Northeast Washington, then shipped to Bridgeport, N.J., where a contractor irradiates it. Upon return to Washington, the mail must sit in isolation for 12 hours. The entire process, in place since the October 2001 anthrax attacks, takes 3 to 4 days.

By building a local facility, Postal Service officials believe they can get mail to federal agencies more quickly. Doing so would also save the agency money, although exactly how much has not been determined. The current contract with IBA-Worldwide costs the agency about $10 million a year. That includes transportation and irradiation.

The agency's preference is to build a facility on land it owns next to the Curseen-Morris Processing and Distribution Center in Northeast Washington, the site of the anthrax attacks, according to agency spokesman Robert Anderson.

Next week, the agency will start an environmental impact assessment to determine whether the site is suitable for such a facility. A host of city and federal agencies are involved in that process, which could take several months. Assuming the site is approved, the Postal Board of Governors must grant funding for the project. From the time funding is approved, it could take two years to get the facility built, said Anderson. The agency hasn't determined if it would hire a contractor to run the facility or train postal employees.