Anthrax detector installed 1.4 mil pieces
of mail per day will be tested

Meghan E. Moravcik
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 16, 2004 12:00 AM

Your mail just got safer.

The Phoenix Processing and Distribution Center is the 35th in the country to install a Biohazard Detection System to test all incoming letters - about 1.4 million each day - for anthrax.

The center handles all of the Valley's mail before sending it out to local post offices. advertisement

The system works by sampling the air around the mail, which travels along a conveyor to a special testing compartment, said John DiPeri, the center's senior plant manager.

"Up until 9/11, we didn't worry about it (anthrax)," DiPeri said. "But right after those first scares, people started worrying that their mail might have anthrax on it.

"Now they're going to have the security and peace of mind."

Mail service will not be delayed or disrupted due to this testing, postal service officials said.

The testing will begin next week and will not slow service in any way.

The detection system was developed by the Northrop Grumman Corp., a Los Angeles-based global defense company, through a combination of existing technologies.

The Postal Service expects to have it in 283of the country's mail-handling and sorting facilities by November 2005. Tucson will get one in February.

The systems were first installed in 2003 in major East Coast cities that were considered to be the most at risk.

If anthrax were to be found, the center would be shut down and quarantined until the Arizona Department of Health Services determined it is safe. Employees of the center would go through decontamination, and officials would start to look for the specific piece of contaminated mail.

Finding the specific letter could take weeks or even months because the mail goes through the testing at such a rapid rate.

But, officials say, at least they'll know it's at the center and not in someone's mailbox.

If service is suspended during this time, mail will be re-routed to another center for delivery.