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Subject: Electron beam irradiation

Electron beam irradiation

From: Eliza Gilligan <gilligane>
Date: Friday, February 15, 2002
On January 28, 2002 the Smithsonian Institution Libraries hosted a
meeting with representatives from the US Postal Service, Titan
Corporation, CLIR, and several federal libraries in the Washington
DC area. What follows is a list of the participants and a summary of
the discussion.

Summary of Irradiation of Library and Archives Materials Meeting
Smithsonian Institution
Dillon S. Ripley Center
January 28, 2002

Present: Pete Allen, Sales Team Leader, U.S. Postal Service; Thomas
Edwards, Manager of Government Relations, U.S. Postal Service; Susan
Frampton, Head, Preservation and Exhibition Services Department,
Smithsonian Institution Libraries; Eliza Gilligan, Conservator,
Smithsonian Institution Libraries; Doris Hamburg, Head of
Preservation, National Archives and Records Administration; Kaylyn
Hipps, Association of Research Libraries; Darren McKnight, Chief
Technology Officer, Mailsafe-Titan Corporation; Robert Mohrman,
Acting Chief, Library, Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Andrew Robb,
Senior Photo Conservator, Library of Congress; Lu Rossignol, Head,
Acquisition Services, Smithsonian Institution Libraries; Irene
Schubert, Chief, Preservation Reformatting Division, Library of
Congress; Abby Smith, Director of Programs, Council on Library and
Information Resources; Laurie Stackpole, Chief Librarian, Naval
Research Library; Sarah Stauderman, Preservation Manager,
Smithsonian Institution Archives; Susan Tarr, Executive Director,
Federal Library and Information Center Committee; Charles Tumosa,
Senior Research Chemist, Smithsonian Center for Research and
Materials Education; Dianne van der Reyden, Senior Paper
Conservator, Smithsonian Center for Research and Materials
Education; Savannah Schroll, Public Information Officer, Smithsonian
Institution Libraries, Recorder

Agenda: to gather information about the irradiation process and U.S.
Postal Service plans regarding government mail, so that affected
federal libraries and archives can react and plan accordingly.
Provide a forum to express concerns over the current and long-term
effects of irradiation of collection materials.

U.S. Postal Service
Thomas Edwards and Pete Allen

    The Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of
    Homeland Security were the government entities that determined
    if the mail is to be treated for bio-hazards, the most effective
    point is when it is processed by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
    These same Offices also chose irradiation as the most effective
    method for neutralizing those bio-hazards.

    At this time, all mail directed to the White House, Congress and
    the Library of Congress (as part of the Capitol complex) is
    being irradiated.

    For zip codes beginning with 202-205, all first class mail and
    flats are being irradiated.  At present, parcels, boxes and
    packages are not being irradiated; however, new technology using
    an x-ray irradiation process has been developed and will soon be
    implemented for these larger items.

    The USPS realizes that irradiating all mail is not the optimal
    solution, but until they can put a more balanced system in
    place, they will continue with the current program for treating
    the mail.  They are working with industry and the Department of
    Defense to develop new methods of detection and sanitization.

Mail Safe--Titan Corporation
Darren McKnight

    Irradiation dosage levels are set by the USPS, as the client, in
    consultation with the Department of Defense.  They determined
    what would kill the most virulent known strain of anthrax and
    then increased that dosage by several orders of magnitude.  When
    this process began, there was very little information available
    on what it would take to neutralize anthrax.  The USPS went with
    a high dose as a precaution, and will evaluate the possibility
    of a lower dosage as more research is completed.

    When the irradiation system was implemented, there was a
    tremendous amount of mail to be bundled and processed, with
    "maximum throughput" of backlogged material as the goal.  Large
    bundles of mail were processed and received a higher irradiation
    dose.  Bundles of mail, gathered by hand, were not uniform in
    size and therefore, neither were the irradiation dosages
    received.   Since the initial phase of the project, bundle size
    has been standardized: 2-3 inch bundles are put into  5 1/2 inch
    letter trays and circulated on a conveyor belt.  The bundles
    travel past the electron beam twice, and are exposed on both

    The actual dosage materials receive depends on how thick the
    bundles or packages are; how slowly they pass on the conveyor
    belt under the electron beam or x-ray machine; whether they are
    irradiated twice or exposed on both sides; and human error.

    Side effects of the irradiation process include:

    *   The amount of heat produced. As the dosage increases, so
        does the temperature.  The current dosages are producing
        temperatures up to 130 deg. Celsius.  These temperatures
        desiccate paper and cause most of the apparent damage to the

    *   The potential for the creation of carbon monoxide and ozone
        gases as chemical reactions take place within the irradiated
        materials.  This side effect can be particularly serious for
        materials inside plastic shipping bags.

Open Forum

    High temperatures produced during the irradiation process cause
    the "visible" damage.  Lowering the dosage will lower the heat
    of the process, but not eliminate it altogether.

    More significantly, in addition to the damage caused by heat, is
    the unseen damage caused by the irradiation. The irradiation
    process imparts a tremendous amount of energy to the items being
    irradiated.  This energy, while neutralizing bio-hazards, also
    acts as a catalyst for chemical reactions, causing accelerated
    deterioration of paper and other materials.

    Action steps proposed at the meeting included:

    *   If possible, use a post office box outside of the affected
        zip code areas.

    *   Qualify and quantify the damage seen within your library or
        archive, to support the concept that collection material is
        at risk.

    *   Determine the percentage of your collection that is at
        risk--both visible and inherent - from irradiation, and the
        costs associated with that risk.

    *   Contact the Homeland Security Office, USPS (and hopefully
        the White House, who is setting policy concerning
        irradiation of mail), outlining the consequences of loss of
        collection materials and the costs associated with the
        replacement, staff time, resources, legal stewardship,
        lawsuits, etc.

    *   Collect samples of expendable material to send to Titan for
        testing, to determine effects of future procedures.

Participants agreed to form a small working group to gather
information on current and expected damage and related costs.
Members to include: Susan Frampton, Doris Hamburg, Andrew Robb,
Irene Schubert and Abby Smith.  Susan Frampton agreed to collect
samples from participants for testing by Titan.  Susan Tarr agreed
to serve as a conduit to gather information from and distribute
information to the broader federal library community.

Eliza Gilligan
Book Conservator
Preservation and Exhibition Services Department
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Washington, DC 20560-0806

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:57
                 Distributed: Friday, February 15, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-15-57-001
Received on Friday, 15 February, 2002

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