Best Practices: Current Technology for Ensuring 'Safefreight' and 'Safemail'

As threats mount and unwanted hazards become a reality, companies must be prepared to invest in safety


By Tom Bauer

The safe handling of hazardous materials continues to be a widely publicized challenge facing manufacturers, government agencies and commercial organizations across our nation. Even the smallest contamination leak can spell the most drastic consequences, such as hefty clean-up costs, stringent fines, legal fees and significant long-term implications on operational efficiency.

Since the September 11 attacks, fears of bio-terrorism have become reality, posing threats going well beyond traditional hazardous materials. Our mail system has seen it all — from the anthrax attacks of 2001 to other high-profile events — alerting us that mail, like other common sources of contamination, needs to be handled with the highest level of responsibility.

In the face of these threats, companies must be prepared to build significant capabilities to determine the presence, or absence, of suspicious or obvious bio-threat material in letters, flats, parcels and packages delivered by the USPS, Federal Express, the United Parcel Service and other commercial carriers in order to safeguard the organization and its staff.

The Pentagon is leading the way in mail sanitation best practices. It currently employs unique, rigorous operations and technology aimed at constructing a robust fortress around all forms of chemical and biological agents. These steps are needed to ensure that the safety of facilities — and the way of life within those facilities — isn't compromised in any shape or form. This article addresses current best practices and the underlying technologies for handling hazardous materials.

Best Practices Bringing Regulations to the Forefront

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 100-185 explicitly provides guidance and establishes regulations for the safe and secure transportation and logistics of hazardous materials, including packaging, marking, transport, loading and unloading. These regulations apply to anyone moving hazardous material in a package by any means of transport.

To comply with the present regulations, many precautions are necessary for handling and transporting hazardous material. The need to be identified by appropriate placards is highly essential: Personnel handling hazardous materials should have access to material safety data sheets (MSDS) along with emergency response procedures providing guidance in the case of contamination.

Federal regulations require Level C personal protective equipment (PPE) for all personnel in a sort/pre-wrap area, including a full body Tyvek suit with hood, Tyvek shoe covers, powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) with HEPA filter and Nitrile gloves draping surgical gloves. All incoming items must go through a rigorous process to ensure when the item leaves mail/freight processing areas it is no longer considered a contaminated threat to the remainder of the facilities. During this phase, items are bar-coded to ensure accurate tracking during processing and proper storage of pertinent data through ultimate delivery.

DAAMS, MINICAMS and ACADA

Items received from many commercial or government carriers are scanned for all types of hazards, including — but not limited to — toxic chemicals, microbiologicals (pathogenic and non-pathogenic), toxins, radioactive materials, explosives/pyrotechnics, lasers, X-ray devices or any other substance or equipment that is a potential hazard. These items should be handled in a separate and isolated processing area, initially bagged and decontaminated using a bleach solution. Depot area air monitoring system (DAAMS) equipment is used to sample the processing area for possible chemical and biological contaminants while the item is isolated. The bagged contents should then be X-rayed to ensure the absence of explosive threats.

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