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Mail from N.J. facility to be sent for irradiation next week

TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Ten semitrailer trucks have been loaded with about a million pieces of mail from the U.S. Postal Service's regional processing center in Hamilton Township, and as early as Monday will haul the letters and packages to an off-site facility for irradiation, postal officials said Thursday.

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17 total anthrax infections

  -- 10 cases inhalation anthrax (4 dead)

  -- 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

Source: CDC/CNN

The three anthrax-contaminated letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the New York Post and NBC News were all postmarked in the Hamilton Township facility, which remains closed.

Only the letters and parcels that were in the Hamilton facility on October 18, the day the building was closed because of anthrax contamination, will be sanitized, postal spokesman Al DeSarro said.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the New Jersey Health Department recommended this course of action.

The sterilization facility, about 80 miles south in Bridgeport, New Jersey, is operated by Ion Beam Applications (IBA), based in Oak Brook, Illinois.

"The trucks have been securely containerized and protected according to Department of Defense requirements for the transport of bio-hazardous materials," DeSarro said. "We are working out logistics, and plan to move the trucks early next week."

Earlier, officials had said the transfer would happen this week.

In the radiation process, the mail will be beamed with accelerated electrons, which kill bacteria within seconds. The technology is typically used by food-processing and medical supply companies to sterilize products before they are shipped. No gases or chemicals are used.

The Postal Service said IBA advised that the process could damage items such as electronics, may cause some plastics to become hard or brittle, and could discolor some paper, but magnetic strips on credit cards should not be affected.

Meanwhile, decontamination efforts continue inside the Hamilton Township facility. URS Corp., which is handling the cleanup, moved the mail onto the trucks, sealed the containers, and began sanitizing the building.

"They have started wiping down the machines with a bleach solution, and vacuuming the air ventilation systems," said DeSarro. "It's going to be a complete scouring of the entire facility."

No date has been set for reopening the building.


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