E-beam technology to remove anthrax from mail may alter gems

A new process designed to remove anthrax and other biological contaminants from mail may also alter jewelry and gemstones that are being handled by the U.S. Postal workers.

SureBeam Corp. of San Diego, Calif., announced on October 29th that the U.S. Postal Service would use SureBeam’s electron-beam systems to eliminate the threat of anthrax. Titan Corp., parent company for both Titan Scan Technologies and SureBeam, is currently working with federal agencies to rapidly install systems that will provide a safe US Mail stream with respect to biological contaminants. Currently, SureBeam is a provider of electron-beam and x-ray food safety systems for the food industry. The award to SureBeam by the newly established Office of Homeland Security of approximately $26 million will be used for eight SureBeam systems.

Michael Stern, director of technological applications for Titan Scan Technologies, knows that high energy irradiation of certain gemstones, glasses, and plastics may produce color changes. “E-beam technology has been used to turn topaz from colorless to blue; to change tourmaline from pale pink to bright red; and to make smoky quartz from colorless quartz,” Stern says. But with SureBeam postal scanning systems, Stern says he believes that the doses used to impart color to gemstones are several orders of magnitude higher than doses being considered for anthrax destruction in US Mail.

However, while the mail will be safe from Anthrax, the new technology still may affect the way jewelry and gemstones, as well as other important items, are shipped. In a communication from SureBeam, controlled applications of low-dose electron-beam irradiation may, in some cases, create problems. “[E-beam may] erase the data on magnetic data storage media (e.g., floppy disks, data tapes, VHS tapes) as well as some credit card magnetic strips, Stern says.

“Glass and gemstones that are irradiated may also produce coloration, the exact color and intensity being dependent on the nature of the mineral impurities. At lower dose levels, most glass/crystal may turn a shade of gold or brown,” Stern continues. “Electron-beam irradiation may expose unprocessed photographic film in a similar manner as sunlight. However, unlike sunlight, highly energetic electrons have the ability to penetrate even opaque packaging materials and affect their contents. Developed negatives are likely to show coloration, typically of the yellow/orange/brown variety, upon irradiation.

“Polycarbonate-based materials, including some eyeglass lenses, may develop coloration, typically of the yellow/orange/brown variety.

For more information about SureBeam, log onto their website at www.Surebeam.com.. For additional information on the effects of ionizing radiation on gemstones, click onto the website for the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society at fgms.home.att.net/impgems.htm.