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Public Citizen Calls on United States Postal Service To Place Moratorium on Irradiation of Mail

Jan. 16, 2002

Public Citizen Calls on United States Postal Service To Place Moratorium on Irradiation of Mail

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Public Citizen, the national consumer organization, today called on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to place a moratorium on the irradiation of federal mail while it answers questions about worker safety and the damage caused to items sent through the mail.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Postal Service acted too hastily when it decided to irradiate the mail in response to last fall?s tragic anthrax attacks,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Since the decision in November to purchase irradiation equipment and lease facilities in Ohio and New Jersey to irradiate the mail for the federal government, numerous problems have emerged.”

The list of items that can be harmed by irradiation is lengthy and growing. It includes pharmaceuticals, seeds, scientific specimens, plant material, gem stones, certain food items, museum specimens and electronic equipment. Now, worker safety issues have surfaced. In recent weeks, there have been five incidents in which mailroom employees working for the federal government have suffered illnesses from opening mail that has been irradiated. Most of these incidents have involved the release of noxious fumes that are formed when plastic wrapping is irradiated. Congressional staff members are complaining about mail being damaged by irradiation. In some cases, the mail is crumbling.

“We understand that the Postal Service was pressed to look for immediate solutions, but it?s time to find a better way,” Hauter said. “The Postal Service has already wasted enough money on this.”

The Postal Service should stop irradiating mail until officials address worker safety issues, figure out how to ensure that sensitive materials don?t get destroyed by irradiation and devise a way to prevent terrorists from avoiding irradiation by labeling dangerous materials as sensitive items, Hauter said. The agency should consider obtaining equipment made to detect anthrax, she said.

Hauter called on the Postal Service to conduct a thorough review of the decision-making that led the USPS to purchase irradiation equipment through a non-competitive process. Public Citizen has published a series of questions and answers on mail irradiation. Click here to view it.