Monday, February 20, 2006

A neatly pressed solution to anthrax

High school senior discovers ironing deactivates anthrax

Through a project for a statewide science competition, Central Catholic High School senior Marc Roberge discovered truth in the urban legend that ironing can kill anthrax spores in contaminated mail.

His findings will appear in the June edition of the Journal of Medical Toxicology, which publishes peer-reviewed research papers. It is an accomplishment usually reserved for Ph.D.-level scientists and physicians.


Roberge's idea for his Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Sciences project -- which won first place at regional and state events last year -- came after the 2001 bioterrorism attack in which letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. senators. Anthrax infections killed five people. The crimes remain unsolved.

Anthrax mail scares still occur periodically. Last week, a letter containing a mysterious white powder and addressed to Americans triggered an anthrax alert at a NATO center in Norway, the Associated Press reported.

Anthrax spores, covered by a hard protective shell, can fatally infect people who inhale them deep into the lungs.


For his experiments -- conducted in the family's Highland Park home and at Central Catholic in Oakland -- Marc Roberge did not use actual anthrax.

"The government might have had a little problem with that," he said.

Instead, he substituted a more heat-resistant but harmless bacterial spore from the anthrax family that scientists often use as a surrogate.

Marc Roberge placed paper strips laden with millions of spores inside standard envelopes, and then ironed the mail at various dry heat settings for up to 15 minutes.

He found that an iron adjusted to the hottest setting -- at least 204.5 degrees Celsius, or 400 degrees Fahrenheit -- and used for at least 5 minutes destroyed all spores so no bacteria would grow. The iron didn't open the letters or make pen-written addresses hard to read, Roberge said.

Sounds like women's work.

Just kidding.


Post a Comment

<< Home