A San Diego company says it can neutralize anthrax in mail. SureBeam Corporation is a company that developed a technology to eliminate bacterial threats in food, but now says the same technology can be used to eliminate the anthrax bacteria in mail.
In theory, it works, but it has yet to be tested. Gene Ray, the CEO of Titan Corporation (the company that created SureBeam Corporation after an IPO last March) spoke with the Early Show about the technology.
When did it hit you that your company could be in the business of protecting people from anthrax?
We knew immediately. We kill bacteria in food and in medical devices and we knew that we could kill bacteria in paper or in mail. At first, like a lot of people we didn't take the threat of anthrax too seriously.
Has your company or anyone else tested this technology on anthrax or mail containing anthrax?
It has not been tested on anthrax but we have research that show how it would be effective against the anthrax bacteria and we even know at what energy level anthrax can be eliminated. We've been in the business of sterilizing medical products since May 1993, and food over the past few years. We have five facilities. We use the same technology on food and medical products. There are no issues as to whether this can work. The only issue is setting the machine to the proper level.
Explain how the technology works in food.
Basically, it's like a microwave oven only a lot stronger. You'd take a letter and shoot it with electrons with an electron gun that accelerates them to nearly the speed of light and forms them into a beam. That beam is then scanned across the product like food or medical supplies or a letter and it kills the harmful bacteria within seconds. In the case of medical supplies, it makes them sterile. In food, it eliminates harmful bacteria, and we think it will neutralize anthrax.
Have you been contacted by the federal government?
Yes, but I can't really comment on that right now. We just want to know how we can help.
Can you give me an idea of how much it would cost to install?
No. It's hard to gauge that right now. We really haven't gotten that far along. Right now we're working on how we can make this technology small and useful for the purpose of eliminating anthrax.
Any discussion on when this could be up and running?
No, not yet.
Are there other similar technologies that could do the same thing?
Yes, but not in a practical way. If you use heat, it would take exposing a letter to 90 degrees for 3 hours or using cobalt-60 to produce gamma rays that cause ionization and that could take 50 hours. Other methods would destroy the letter.
Would letters or boxes be scanned individually or in larger quantities?
Definitely in boxes. This is a technology that can scan 40,000 pounds of beef in an hour. Papr is a different density, but it could be scanned by the box.
Do you envision scanners in corporate mail rooms or will this need to be more centralized?
This is not something each company should do on its own. The best solution is for the Postal Service to establish constriction points where mail can scanned and made anthrax-free.
Put the promise of this technology into perspective for me?
This technology stands to do for food what pasteurization did for milk. Each year over 5,000 people die from food-borne diseases like E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. This is a good technology and if works for anthrax, well that's great too. It doesn't create heat. It can be turned on and off and there's no environmental consequences: It just uses ordinary electricity.
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