Sunday, January 27, 2002

Local firm designs anthrax detector

Device finds and corrals suspect mail

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The anthrax scare has opened a market for a small Cincinnati company which specializes in engineering industrial air and dust removal systems.

        KBD/Technic Inc., an Oakley unit of of CECO Environmental Corp., has designed a desktop system for handling suspicious mail.

        The system — aimed at corporate office mail rooms and government offices — was developed over the last two months by KBD, which was spun off 13 years ago as a separate unit of adjoining Kirk & Blum, a nearly 100-year-old maker of industrial air cleaning equipment.

        In the wake of the anthrax scare, which paralyzed Washington, D.C. and parts of of the East Coast this fall, engineers at KBD and parent CECO brainstormed ideas. Then someone suggested an air filtration system for office mail rooms, said Gerry Lanham, KBD's president.

        “It was a lot of work. Most of the (air filter) hoods we design are for foundries or industrial plants,” said Mr. Lanham.

        “This is designed for international companies, embassies, government, offices, even newspapers which get a lot of crank mail,” he said.

        To fit in an office environment, the system had to be less noisy than one designed for a factory.

        “We're shooting for about the noise level of a vacuum cleaner,” he said.

        The system is designed to detect problems with suspicious mail and then prevent it from spreading to other locations.

        “It doesn't solve the problem (of disposal). It just encapsulates it” until authorities are called to remove it, he said.

        Called cMail, the system consists of two parts.

        First, there's a sorting table for general mail handling. Any loose contaminants on the outside are pulled by a down-draft air system. They go through a screen and are caught by a sophisticated high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which can trap particles as microscopic as .3 microns. (How microscopic is that? Well, one micron, for example, is just one-hundredth of the width of a human hair.)

        If the mail handler's suspicions are aroused by a piece of mail, he can place it — while wearing rubber gloves — into an adjoining enclosed chamber. Once in the chamber, which is slightly larger than the inside of a microwave, the mail can be opened and inspected through protective flaps. A HEPA filter for the chamber prevents any dust from escaping.

        Mr. Lanham said KBD is considering including an anthrax test kit in the unit. If a test comes back positive, the worker would remove the gloves in the chamber, bags the entire unit and calls authorities.

        Although the system is still about a month away from being commercially available, Mr. Lanham said the company has gotten a steady stream of requests.

        The company has asked West Virginia University and a local test firm, H.C. Nutting, to examine the systems and verify their abilities to control the dust.

        “We plan to market it through people in the mail handling business, he said. "We're used to marketing in the industrial world, but this is a different market.”

        The two-stage system is expected to cost cost around $15,000, he said.


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