Irradiating our mail

Since the 2001 anthrax attacks, the feds have spent $75 million on nuking millions of pieces of mail sent to Congress, the White House and Cabinet departments, to protect against evildoers bent on sending poisonous organisms to bureaucrats and politicians via the post.

Some might consider it a costly over-reaction that, after a spate of anthrax-contaminated letters killed five people around the country and forced the Hart Senate Office Building to close for cleaning, the mail nearly seven years later is still being irradiated. Huge containers of it are trucked daily to New Jersey where they are either subjected to X-rays or high-energy electron beams, according to the congressional Government Accountability Office.

The result has been such chronic delivery delays that government offices have changed their mailing addresses and encouraged the use of overnight-delivery firms to avoid the time-consuming "sanitation" of letters and packages. Whether that defeats the purpose of the irradiation policy remains to be seen.


The number of "Amber Alerts" issued around the country is dropping dramatically, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In 2005, officials put out 275 alerts about missing children. In 2006, the number was 262, and last year it was 227. Through May of this year, just 74 had been issued.

No one is sure why, though some speculate the existence of the program itself could be a deterrent, with potential kidnappers deciding the risk of capture is too great, according to, an online news service that researched the issue. Some police departments say they are being more judicious about issuing the alerts to avoid the complacency that can set in with overexposure.

Also, the criteria for a disappearance to merit an alert have been tightened in some areas, with children believed snatched in a custody dispute not qualifying.


New government research has found that commercial ships run on heavy bunker fuel release twice as much soot as previously estimated. The 130,000 metric tons of crud amount to 1.7 percent of all such pollution worldwide. Tugboats contribute a particularly noxious share because they operate mostly near port cities. Look for California regulators to seize on the findings to buttress their new pollution rules for ships, the world’s most restrictive. The regulations, adopted in late July, would force ships to use only low-sulfur fuel when operating within 24 miles of shore. Court challenges from the shipping industry are expected.


While computer crime and identity theft grab most of the attention these days, the FBI reminds us that old-fashioned bank robberies haven’t gone away. In fact, the most recent stats show that there were 1,561 bank heists from October through December 2007 — an increase of 31 over the same period the previous year.

Of the 1,561 robberies, a note was used in 870 robberies, a firearm was wielded in 447 and the threat of weapon use was made in 1,191. Most stickups happened on Fridays, and the hours between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. were the most popular. In all, 21 people were injured, of which 10 were bank employees. The only fatalities were four robbers.


(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at) SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)