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An evaluation of work areas in government buildings where workers handled and opened irradiated mail.

Hall R; Hess J; Bernard B; Kiefer M; Harney J; Mattorano D; McCleery R; Delaney L; Gillen M; Mead K; Tepper A
American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 10-15, 2003, Dallas, Texas. Fairfax, VA: American Industrial Hygiene Association, 2003 May; :23
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and government officials implemented irradiation procedures to protect against biohazards for mail destined to government offices in Washington, D.C. Shortly after this process was implemented, federal workers began reporting health symptoms they believed were related to irradiated mail. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received health hazard evaluation requests from USPS, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Sergeant at arms of the U.S. Senate and the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. The environmental evaluation portion of this investigation included air sample collection for contaminants potentially derived from heated mail as a result of irradiation. At the mil processing facility (where the mail is delivered after the irradiation process), area air samples collected for carbon monoxide (CO) in the middle of the delivery trailer and inside enclosed plastic bags that contained the irradiated mail indicated a potential for CO exposures. The mail processing facility implemented ventilation procedures to "air out" the mail and reduce possible hazards associated with CO. Environmental samples collected in the "V" Street postal facility, OPM building, and the evaluated Senate and House of Representative buildings where end users handle and open the mail, indicated contaminant concentrations well below applicable exposure criteria. In addition, exposures in irradiated mail locations were not demonstrably higher than exposures in control locations where there was no mail. Medical interviews identified individuals reporting symptoms of irritation while handling mail. The absorptive effect of the irradiated paper could account for some of the symptoms, other irritant symptoms may be due to odors associated with the mail, and still others due to sub-optimal humidity and heightened awareness. It is likely that a number of causes were responsible for symptoms.
Irradiation; Work-areas; Workers; Biohazards; Occupational-exposure; Occupational-hazards; Health-hazards; Air-samples; Environmental-exposure
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American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 10-15, 2003, Dallas, Texas
Page last reviewed: October 9, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division