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Printing Industry Reassures Public During Anthrax Scare

Press release from the issuing company

Pittsburgh, Pa., November 20, 2001— "I am confident in the safety of the $163 billion of products that the printing industry produces annually and believe it is our responsibility to address our clients and the public’s concerns," says George Ryan, president of the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF). His statement comes in response to "anti-setoff powder" residue found on printed material being mistaken for the highly publicized "white powder" found in several letters containing anthrax spores. As reported in an October 31, 2001 Wall Street Journal article on the look-alike powder, there have been several mistaken cases and growing anxiety. The powder that is present on printed material is the result of the printing manufacturing process. The main function of spray powder is to prevent "setoff," which is the unwanted transfer of ink or varnish from the surface of a printed sheet to the back of the next sheet in the paper pile, and keep sheets from sticking together. It also acts as a lubricant in the binding and finishing process. Most, but not all, of the powder is shaken off printed material through the binding and distribution process before it reaches the client or general public. Suddenly people are noticing the residue, which can vary from trace amounts to quarter through saucer size amounts due to caked-on powder dropping from equipment. "The powder used as anti-setoff is harmless. It is a proven and safe technology necessary to the process," says Frank Scott, GATF’s vice president of research at the nonprofit technical and research foundation for the printing industry. Formerly the director of digital development at publishing giant Time, Inc., in New York, Scott explains the residue is powdered starches manufactured from corn, potato, tapioca, and other common grain products. The safety of the product, say nothing of it being environmentally-friendly, is the reason it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over silicone-based alternatives for printing on food packaging. The silicone-based alternatives presents several other problems affecting quality and equipment for the majority of printers. Printing is America’s third largest manufacturing industry—employing over 1,213,000 people in almost 50,000 establishments in 2000. As in any large manufacturing sector, the industry is highly regulated. Because of the regulations imposed upon the industry, mainly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the speed in which its product is prepared, experts at GATF feel that printed material is unlikely to be tampered with in the production plant through delivery to its customers. Although there is no indication that the printing industry is a targeted entity, actions are being taken to safeguard the product and educate the public. An audio conference is scheduled for November 27, 2001 to discuss how to respond to inquiries about spray powder. GATF’s environmental health & safety specialist for the industry will host representatives from a leading printer, direct mail client, and the United States Postal Service. GATF suggests that printers provide clients with a form declaring the powder is a normal and safe residue of the printing process. Posted on www.gain.net, under "The Industry Responds to September 11," GATF provides a technical explanation for the use of anti-setoff powder, materials for printers to use in response to inquirers about the powder, a list of government resources, and a sample declaration form. Printers may also contact their spray powder vendor for information and safety assurance to provide to their clients. In addition authorities at GATF’s sister organization, the Printing Industries of America (PIA), is working with the US Postal Service through the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee to take steps necessary to reassure the public about the safety of the mail. PIA has also offered its assistance to the Office of Homeland Security to support their efforts to provide the public with information about the safety of the mail. GATF and PIA took these steps as a result of printers requesting support in educating their clients—business and government offices, schools, and anyone who receives a delivery of printed materials which is most likely to contain anti-offset powder in the shipment—about the presence of this white powder. Other sources report that private residences are concerned about this residue on mail. Experts and GATF and PIA alike believes that commercial and business mail such as bills, magazines, and advertising/direct mail is the safest type of mail and has not been in question. Statistics posted on the United States Postal Service (USPS) web site reiterates this point. The USPS states that since September 11, it has delivered about 33 billion pieces of mail, of which a couple of handwritten letters addressed to prominent government and media figures were contaminated with anthrax. "We are sensitive to these newfound fears and we certainly advocate people being on ‘high alert’ and cautious in handling abnormal mail," says Scott. "But we do ask that people recognize that it is normal to find a small amount of anti-offset powder on printed material and that has been safely used in the printing process since Benjamin Franklin was a printer."

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