Company Hired to Sanitize the Mail

Some 68 tons of mail from Washington, DC, is being zapped with electrons at a facility in Ohio in an effort to destroy any trace of anthrax. The facility is owned by the Titan Corporation, from whom the US Postal Service will purchase an initial eight processing systems for approximately $40 million. Gene Ray is the CEO of Titan Corporation, the San Diego-based company the US Postal Service has hired to sanitize the mail.

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. The only issue is setting the machine to the proper level. But, at first, like a lot of people we didn't take the threat of anthrax too seriously.

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, using an electron gun, that are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and formed into a beam. That electron 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 and in food it eliminates harmful bacteria, but not viruses, and we think it will neutralize anthrax.

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. If you use cobalt-60 to produce gamma rays that cause ionization, 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. Paper is a different density, but it could be scanned by the box.

Do you envision scanners in corporate mailrooms 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 be scanned and made anthrax free.

Put the promise of this technology into perspective?

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 it 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, not nuclear energy.

Are there any drawbacks?

It can ruin some electronic items that might be sent by mail, or film that is being sent for processing.

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