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SUB-PROBLEMS INCLUDING LEADING TO IMPAIRMENT AND BEST PRACTICES FOR USE OF MAIL AS A MEANS OF DISPERSING BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS AND OTHER POTENTIAL THREATS

(See the section above on “Sub-Problems, Factors Leading to Impairment, and Best Practices for Bioterrorism and Potential Agents”) (See endnote 38)

There are a wide variety of substances that can create harm to individuals or groups of people and disrupt operations including those of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive nature or other threats. In addition, white powder hoaxes and threatening letters are sent through the mail.

Chemical agents include nerve agents, blood agents, pulmonary agents, blister agents, and various chemicals which may be hazardous or may be simply irritating to individuals. They can be shipped in solid, liquid, or gaseous/vapor states. Typically, there needs to be a timer included so that it will cause damage to the targets rather than in the general mail room. Besides mailing from United States Postal Service drop boxes, these packages or letters may be delivered by courier or a local mail delivery service.

Biological agents may include microorganisms which cause anthrax, plague, smallpox, and tularemia. They may be distributed throughout the mailroom or other areas readily because of their small size and the large amount of dust and paper dust within the environment, since dust facilitates dispersion of microorganisms. Individuals would not know if they had been exposed to the biohazard and this would hinder treatment and extend the potential for recovery. A prime example is the anthrax letters that were sent out in October 2001, resulting in 11 cases of cutaneous anthrax and 11 cases of inhalation anthrax, with 5 people dying from the inhalation anthrax. Ricin, which is a toxin which comes from castor beans, may be used as a biological weapon and will enter the body through a cut in the skin or through inhalation and cause death.

Radiological/nuclear agents can be dispersed from a dirty bomb inside a package. This can lead to immediate and long-term effects including cancers of various types and death.

Explosives in letter or package bombs can be set off upon opening of the package or by a timer. Various explosives have been used for this purpose.

Hoaxes are mail items that are meant to disrupt the lives of people, but do not cause actual harm from a known hazard. The best examples of this are envelopes with different types of white powder enclosed since the anthrax letters contained a white powder.

Dangerous items may include things that can cause cuts or shocks to the individuals opening a package or letter. Contraband would include packages that may contain illegal drugs, guns, knives, and other sharp objects. Letters with threatening content may include death threats against the President or other elected officials or heads of corporations. Interoffice mail in a large corporation, university, or governmental agency can be subject to many different types of at-risk mail or packages, since they can be introduced into the system flow at a variety of points within the facility.

Most large organizations are very vulnerable to receiving hazardous packages or mail. The mail centers are typically within the facility and therefore the potential for serious problems is enhanced. The size and volume of the amount of mail being processed is a contributing factor.

Although the front entrance to buildings may be well guarded and various protective mechanisms used, a significant weak point is the loading docks, as well as the numerous delivery vehicles entering the building. Further, the mailroom location may be hazardous to the health and welfare of all employees because biological or chemical weapons may be released into the ventilation systems and travel throughout the structure.

 
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