Using a Steam Iron on Suspicious Letters Could Kill Anthrax–Truth! But Not Recommended!
Summary of eRumor:
A way to kill anthrax that comes in the mail: iron it with a steam iron. This email says bioterrorism expert Ken Alibek made that recommendation during a congressional hearing. He said that hot, moist steam ironed through a moist layer of fabric could kill anthrax spores.
Dr. Ken Alibek is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on not only bioterrorism, but on anthrax. He was the head of the Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons program before defecting to the United States and is now a private consultant on biological weapons defense. According to Reuters News Service, he was participating in a briefing for members of Congress during the third week in October when he said that hot, moist heat could kill anthrax spores. “If you are scared, just iron this letter,” he told lawmakers. “After that, they become harmless.”
In an AP article from October 19, Arthur Trapotsis, a scientist from Boston, said “Anthrax is easy to kill.” His company makes steam sterilizers, one of the options that companies are considering to try to eliminate anthrax that could come through the mail.
While there is agreement that steam can kill anthrax spores, there is not agreement about relying on a steam iron to do it.
The 10/19 AP story says that other experts estimate that in order for the ironing of an envelope to be effective, it would have to be done continuously for 20 minutes. Dr. John Clements of Tulane University in New Orleans told ABC News “Steam irons are not going to get you where you need to be.” There is also concern over the fact that there are different kinds of envelopes made from different substances. Would all of them allow the steam to affect their contents?
Easy Way YOU Can Kill Anthrax in Mail
Worried about anthrax-laced mail at your home or office?
YOU can kill the germs. And, amazingly, it’s easy, cheap, and quick and you probably own the weapon of choice: A steam iron.
Reuters reports that Ken Alibek, a top former Soviet germ warfare scientist who is now a U.S.-based author and researcher trying to develop defenses against bioterrorism, told a surprised congressional briefing on nonproliferation that a hot, moist steam iron and moist fabric could kill anthrax spores.
The lawmakers didn’t believe him. What? An iron? Say that again, please. So he did. Several times. “Iron your letters,” he said. Put a moist layer of fabric over the letter and iron it.
He recommended that postal distribution centers that are working with large amounts of mail set up portable gamma radiation units to sterilize letters. “This problem could be solved,” he insisted.
Anthrax: Separating fear from fact. Don’t microwave your mail. Turns out the dry heat of a microwave doesn’t kill the anthrax spores as well as the moist heat of a steam iron.
Do remember this: The chance that YOU will receive a piece of mail that is anthrax-contaminated is miniscule. And if you do receive something that is suspect, don’t handle it. Put it in a plastic bag, leave the room, wash your hands, and call authorities.
–Cathryn Conroy Visit the Science/Math Forum to find out how anthrax works, how it can be stopped, and to post your questions.