July 2, 2002
Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, on Congressional Office of Compliance Report on Irradiated Mail
Today the Congressional Office of Compliance provided the first honest assessment by any government entity of the safety of handling mail that has been treated with irradiation. Acting on requests for an investigation from congressional staffers, the Office of Compliance ? charged by the Congress to enforce various employment laws on Capitol Hill, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) ? has concluded that there is justification to the complaints from some congressional employees who have developed various health ailments from handling irradiated mail. The Office also recommended that additional research be conducted to find out what irritants are being produced that are making people sick from handling irradiated mail. Irradiation advocates have attempted to dismiss and even belittle congressional staffers who brought forward their concerns. The Congressional Office of Compliance should be commended for standing up for those employees who have legitimate health complaints.
What should be especially troubling to taxpayers is that the primary proponents of mail irradiation have failed to cooperate with the Congressional Office of Compliance in its investigation. In its report, the Congressional Office of Compliance stated that it attempted to meet with officials from the U.S. Postal Service, the Armed Forces Radiobiological Research Institute, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the White House Office of Science and Technology ? all of which have played a role in promoting mail irradiation ? but to no avail. Furthermore, the Office of Compliance was not able to secure an un-redacted copy of a study conducted earlier this year by the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health on congressional mail irradiation. That report concluded that there were no long-term health effects from handling irradiated mail. If the technology is so safe, why won?t these government entities cooperate with the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of those who work on Capitol Hill? Congressional staffers have been used as “guinea pigs” and they deserve answers from those responsible for running this experiment.
In light of the questions that still remain on the safety of mail irradiation, Public Citizen calls on the Postal Service again to cease its mail irradiation program until there has been a thorough analysis of the safety of this technology. Congress should protect its own staff by banning this technology from being used on congressional mail and should invest in detection technology. The Congress should also refrain from appropriating any more funds to the Postal Service for mail irradiation until the technology has proven to be safe.