The same technology that helps deliver wholesome Idaho potatoes to family kitchens may be an effective tool against terrorism.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory are teaming with a small business located in Aberdeen, Idaho, to experiment with destroying anthrax using ozone.
The O3Co. has developed a patented process to deliver high concentrations of ozone - 300 to 800 parts per million - to freshly harvested potatoes as they travel along conveyor belts. Ozone destroys harmful bacteria such as Erwinia, responsible for soft rot, silver scurf, and pink rot, allowing farmers to safely store their potato crops for months.
INEEL researchers believe this same process can be used to sterilize mail. They are testing their theory with harmless surrogates for anthrax spores. The ozone tests are just one part of the ongoing research INEEL is conducting to combat terrorism in support of DOE's national security mission.
"We recognized the potential right after the first anthrax started showing up," says O3Co. President Lynn Johnson. "We were trying to contact the INEEL at the same time they were calling us. We've had such success with agricultural pests that we felt it would work on this."
Unlike chlorine dioxide, a hazardous chemical used to treat potatoes and disinfect anthrax-contaminated facilities, ozone leaves no residue and for potatoes, takes just seconds to work.
Ozone can be created in nature by lightning, or through a high-voltage system such as O3Co.'s patented Corona Discharge Ozone Generator. The electricity breaks apart oxygen molecules and releases one atom. Some of these single atoms attach themselves to a standard oxygen molecule. This creates an unstable and temporary form of oxygen - ozone - that carries three oxygen atoms instead of the standard two.