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Anthrax Mail Cleaning Zaps flash cards

By dpreview staff on Jan 8, 2002 at 20:13 GMT

CES 2002: An interesting article out of CES today from the Compact Flash Assocation has confirmed that the irradiation process the U.S. Postal Service is using to sanitize mail against anthrax can not only destroy the data on flash storage (and other semiconductors) but can leave them unusable. "Testing has confirmed that these systems, which operate in the range of 55 kGy, damage not only semiconductors, but other goods as well, including pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, biological samples, and photographic film,'' the group said.

Reuters article:

Group: Anthrax Mail Cleaning Zaps Digital Data

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Digital dream gadgets are being irreparably zapped by an irradiation process the U.S. Postal Service has used since October to sanitize mail against anthrax threats, an electronics trade group said on Tuesday.

Compact flash memory cards used to store data on many name-brand digital cameras and handheld computers face not just data loss but become entirely inoperable when subjected to electron beam irradiation, the CompactFlash Association said.

The trade group -- comprised of scores of Asian, American and European electronics makers -- made the announcement from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) underway here this week.

CES is the largest annual U.S. trade show devoted to showcasing electronic gadgets.

"Testing has confirmed that these systems, which operate in the range of 55 kGy, damage not only semiconductors, but other goods as well, including pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, biological samples, and photographic film,'' the group said.

KGy is a measure of gamma radiation levels.

Since October, the U.S. Postal Service has subjected mail to irradiation scans to guard against the danger of anthrax and other possible biological agents passing through the delivery system.

Five persons in the United States are known to have died from inhaled anthrax, including two postal employees, a tabloid photo editor and two women with no known connection to anthrax-tainted mail.

The Postal Service's own Web site states that: "The Postal Service is working with the mailing industry to develop procedures to ensure that sanitization of the mail will not damage sensitive items in the mail.

"Sanitization technology is currently being tested on a wide range of film products, digital and magnetic storage devices, laboratory samples, food and plant products, and ''smart'' credit cards with embedded chips to ensure that all business mail can be safely processed through the postal system.''

The question of the outcome of such tests on these products remains unanswered on the postal organization's site.

The Compact Flash Association said it is possible that the Postal Service is no longer passing targeted mail though these e-beam systems. It said it is working with the post office to find safe ways to deliver semiconductor memories via the mail.

However, the group said it is alerting all users of CompactFlash cards of the inherent risk of damage to CompactFlash cards should they pass through an e-beam irradiation system.

The CompactFlash Association said that other delivery services have no plans to use irradiation systems, but users should remain alert for any changes in the future. And while e-beam irradiation systems for the mail will damage CompactFlash cards, the X-ray scanners at airports will not.

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