by Tim McCoy and Linda Welzenbach

In October 2001, the Brentwood Postal Facility, which services the core of government offices in central Washington, DC, was closed indefinitely after two workers died from anthrax inhalation. This closure has affected Smithsonian mail in several important ways that the community should be aware of:

  1. All mail in the Brentwood facility at the time of the anthrax contamination is being sent to irradiation facilities in Lima, Ohio. The volume of mail has overwhelmed that facility and outgoing packages from October may not be delivered until well into the spring. In addition, the effects of high-energy electron irradiation of meteoritic materials are uncertain, but we have reason to believe that the integrity of polished thin sections may be substantially compromised. If you requested material from us and have not received it, or if it arrived damaged, please contact us as soon as possible.

  2. Outgoing loans of requests received after approximately October 15 have been substantially delayed. It was unclear for some time whether outgoing mail would be irradiated and, if so, what affect that would have on samples. Thus, the Museum asked us to temporarily suspend outgoing loans. We are now attempting to fill this backlog of requests. Please be advised that outgoing mail from the Smithsonian is NOT being irradiated.

  3. Mail service is substantially delayed and unpredictable. We are still receiving letters postmarked as early as late October. If you sent a request for material through regular mail any time after October 1, it has likely not been received by us. Please be aware that this situation is not likely to improve, as the volume of incoming mail to the central Washington government core far outpaces the ability to irradiate incoming mail. Thus, the backlog continues to grow. We strongly urge users to communicate with us via e-mail ( or or fax.

  4. Samples returned to us WILL be irradiated if they are sent through regular mail in envelopes or flats, potentially causing significant and irreparable damage. The Smithsonian requires that all materials (no matter how small) be packed in sturdy cardboard boxes at least 6" on a side (boxes are not currently being irradiated) and sent to us at:

Linda Welzenbach
Collection Manager, Div. of Meteorites
Smithsonian Institution
PO Box 37012
National Museum of Natural History
Room E432
MRC Code 119
Washington, DC 20013-7012

If possible, Federal Express (which is not irradiating material) is a better solution for returning samples to us at:

Linda Welzenbach
Div. of Meteorites
National Museum of Natural History
10th and Constitution Aves., NW
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 20560-0119
Phone (202) 357-1478

We apologize in advance for any difficulties these changes may create, but they are unavoidable at this time.