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Published: Friday, 10/14/2005

Toledo postal center installs biohazard-detection system

BY KARAMAGI RUJUMBA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A biohazard detection system that could quickly identify anthrax or another deadly chemical agent has been installed at the U.S. Postal Service's Toledo Processing and Distribution Center.

"Before the 2001 anthrax attacks, we never envisioned that we would need to become biohazard experts," said Ray Jacobs, a postal service spokesman.

But he said the federal government has spent more than $971 million since 2002 to install biohazard detection systems in distribution and mail processing centers nationwide.

The filter system, a three-stage pump on the processing floor of the distribution center at 435 South St. Clair St., is designed for a detection-and-containment approach, said Gary Schultz, the facility's emergency manager.

Mr. Schultz said samples of air are collected as mail moves through a canceling machine, and airborne particles are absorbed into a sterile water base, which creates a liquid sample that can be tested. The liquid sample is injected into a cartridge, and an automated test for a DNA match is performed.

He said the Toledo mail processing and distribution center handles 1.8 million to 2 million pieces of mail a day.

While the automated process is not designed to identify a particular piece of contaminated mail, it can make a positive match for the presence of anthrax or other chemical agents in the plant within 38 minutes of contamination, said Bruce Connor, a postal service inspector.

Mr. Connor said all the mail going through the screening process is local mail because "the theory of this system is to test the mail as early in the processing system" as possible.

Once a positive match is made, what follows is a series of laboratory tests to confirm the results, at which time the federal Department of Homeland Security is notified, and steps are taken to secure the plant and notify the public and emergency responders, Mr. Jacobs said.

"I feel a lot safer now," said Peter Fisher, a mail handler who has worked at the Toledo processing and distribution center for 19 years.

"This greatly minimizes the risk when you consider the capability of putting a chemical weapon through our mail system," said Michael Wolever, Toledo's assistant fire chief.

Also at yesterday's unveiling of the biohazard detection system were Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell, and Dr. David Grossman, Lucas County health commissioner.



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