13. GERM WARFARE TOXINS ROUTINELY SENT THROUGH THE
The U.S. military, federal agencies, and private
research labs have routinely sent germ-warfare toxins and other hazardous biological
materials throughout the United States by unregistered mail.
At a Congressional
hearing, on June, 24, 1988, the Postal Service, in response to critics of the
policy, proposed a ban on sending disease-carrying biological materials through
Controversy over the shipments began when the Army proposed building
a laboratory for testing lethal biowarfare agents at Dugway in Utah where such
agents would be shipped to and from some 103 research laboratories throughout
the country. The Army had been shipping an average of 50 deadly toxins, including
genetic mutations and viruses, each year from its Fort Detrick, Maryland, lab.
officials testified at the hearing that workers are not trained in how to handle
potentially harmful biological agents or how to respond in the event of a leak.
"The only way we find out whether a given shipment is properly labeled and
packaged is when it breaks," said Moe Biller, president of the American Postal
Also testifying before Congress, Jeremy Rifkin, president
of the Foundation On Economic Trends, which had petitioned for a ban similar to
that proposed, warned that "Deadly biological pathogens including yellow
fever, the plague, Crimea-Congo fever, ebola virus, botulism and anthrax are being
shipped through private carriers and the postal service without adequate safety
Rifkin added that "In labs, viruses are contained
by steel, glass, gloves, and masked workers. Yet those same materials are transmitted
through the mail in only vials and watertight containers."
to post office officials, the ban will not cover vials containing medically diagnostic
material, such as blood and urine samples for AIDS testing.
When the proposed
rule by the Postal Service becomes final, private carriers are expected to take
over most of the shipping of hazardous biological materials.
WASHINGTON POST, 6/24/89, "Ban on Mailing Germs to Be Proposed," by
Laurie M. Grossman; News Release by the FOUNDATION ON ECONOMIC TRENDS, 6/24/89,
by Jeremy Rifkin.