Anti-anthrax services pushed

Chris Anderson

WASHINGTON—Recent testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by Les Vinney, president and CEO of Steris Inc. (Mentor, OH), has bolstered the company's press to become a player in the new market of anthrax and biological contaminant remediation.

Steris president/
CEO Les Vinney
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Using its newly minted alliance with Springfield, VA-based emergency response and remediation provider Versar Inc., the company received in January a Crisis Exemption from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use of its ethylene oxide sterilization technologies for mail decontamination. The early intent of the exemption is to demonstrate both the safety and efficacy of this system for sterilizing mail.

Further, both Steris and Versar expect to garner a similar exemption for Steris' vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilization technology to provide decontamination services for offices and buildings.

“We had made our technologies known to various agencies in the government and the Senate when we first heard of the problems in the Daschle suite and mailroom contamination,” says Vinney. “One advantage we saw for room and building decontamination is that while other methods are wet applications, ours is dry and that made it appropriate for use in areas that contain computers or other electronic equipment.”

A longtime provider of decontamination and sterilization services to the healthcare and pharmaceutical markets, Steris intends to apply the same products and technologies it uses for these applications. For instance, the sterilizers and sterilization chambers it uses for mail decontamination are identical to those currently used to sterilize medical products.

While its products are proven effective in medical and pharmaceutical settings, Steris still lacked the appropriate product labeling and approval to move forward immediately with anthrax remediation. For medical and pharmaceutical use the company's products fall under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while the new remediation applications for anthrax and other biological contaminants require appropriate EPA approval and labeling.

With the crisis exemption for mail sterilization and the expected exemption for its vaporized hydrogen peroxide for use in room and building decontamination, Steris and Versar are delivering the services envisioned when the two companies announced an alliance late last year. “One of the reasons we got involved with Steris is they had a strong and proven track record using multiple technologies that can be used for a variety of applications,” says Paul W. Kendall, vice president and program manager for homeland defense at Versar.

While the two companies work to prove the efficacy and safety of Steris' technologies in the new applications, the ultimate goal is to gain EPA approval for their use as needed. Longer term, Steris and Versar are interested in more than just after-the-fact decontamination.

“We are having ongoing discussions with the Postal Service and private carriers as well on how to create a preventive structure, just as we have in the pharmaceutical or healthcare industry,” says Vinney. “We want to be in the position where we don't put them in only to decontaminate but to prevent contamination in the first place.”

Versar is already positioned to provide this service, having recently wrapped up contracts to provide development and design of safe mail handling systems for a number of government agencies. “This could be either for the mail, or in the future perhaps even for regular decontamination of the facility itself using the Steris technology,” says Kendall.


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