PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The U.S. Postal Service will install anthrax detection equipment at its processing and distribution centers in Portland and Hampden, postal officials said.
The facilities are among 250 nationwide that will have biohazard detection systems installed, according to the Postal Service.
The equipment will continuously collect air samples from mail that passes through mail sorting equipment. The air samples will be tested every hour, and an alarm will sound if anthrax is detected.
The equipment will be installed in Portland in mid-July, and in the Bangor suburb of Hampden in early September.
Bill Hodson, the plant manager in Maine, said the new system will give postal workers an early warning if anthrax is sent through the mail.
"The early warning will allow us to work with community emergency personnel to respond quickly to protect the health of employees and customers, and keep the mail safe," Hodson said.
The equipment was developed after postal officials consulted with the military, federal agencies and other consultants.
During the anthrax scare in the fall of 2001, post offices in Maine and elsewhere were repeatedly shut down because of suspicious mail believed to contain anthrax. Anthrax sent through the mail in 2001 killed five people: a 94-year-old Connecticut woman, 61-year-old New York woman, two Washington postal workers and a newspaper photo editor in Florida.
The anthrax sickened 17 others while shutting down post offices and creating widespread alarm nationwide. No one has been charged.
"The Postal Service is committed to keeping its employees and customers safe," Hodson said. "Of course we hope that no one will use the mail to deliver a dangerous substance. But we must be prepared in today's ever-changing world."