and they want to do this to our food??
Friday January 11 12:27 AM ET
Irradiated Mail Causes Illness
By CHRISTOPHER NEWTON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - A package irradiated as part of the government's anti-anthrax screening gave off a noxious gas Thursday when it was opened at the Commerce Department, sickening at least 11 workers, a fire official said.
The workers complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation, and two were admitted to a hospital in undetermined condition, D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said.
The FBI and hazardous-materials workers were dispatched to the scene and blocked off 14th Street in front of the Commerce Department during the evening rush hour. The building is situated at 14th and Constitution Avenue, a block from the Ellipse.
Etter said a package of copy paper tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a noxious gas when it was opened. He said health officials believe the irradiation process can cause paper to give off hydrocarbons that are harmful when concentrated. Gas was held inside the package at the Commerce Department because it was tightly wrapped, Etter said.
Two women who work on the fifth floor of the building called 911 at about 3:45 p.m., after they began to have trouble breathing. The women, who were not identified, were taken to the hospital.
As an investigation was under way, other workers began to call emergency officials to report that they had some of the same symptoms.
Etter said irradiated mail has made people sick at least five times in Washington over the past several weeks.
``People respond differently to this based on their current health condition,'' he said. ``We don't know how serious it can get.''
Thursday's incident was the first indication that the screening for anthrax spores or other biological agents in mail could cause health problems. Postal officials have said only that the process could damage such perishables as film and medication.
Officials have been irradiating mail to all federal buildings in the aftermath of the anthrax scare in which two letters tainted with the bacteria were sent to Capitol Hill.
Etter said Commerce officials would have to decide whether to allow workers into the room Friday. A department spokeswoman did not return a message left on her answering machine late Thursday night.