Alaskans invent safe way for workers to sort U.S. mail
Two Alaskans have crafted a special box as a method of sorting mail and limiting exposure to potentially tainted letters.
In early December Dan Mingo and Les Leturno kicked off marketing efforts, promoting their ME-1 Mail Safe Delivery System around the country.
Although many Americans have exchanged anthrax worries for holiday cheer, and the U.S. Postal Service asserts mail delivery is now safe, the Alaskans believe there may still be a need for their product.
"I think we’re in a mode of holiday positive thinking and a lot of other things," Mingo said. "I think it’s nationwide."
According to Mingo, the men would not be heartbroken if their product is no longer needed and anxieties evaporate about disease spread via the mail.
"We’re happy we don’t have the perceived threat," he said.
However, if problems persist they would be pleased their product could help. "The box is the best way to handle hazardous mail. Nobody can afford an irradiation machine," he said.
The two men developed the product, named ME-1 for minimum exposure, beginning in late October. While East Coast areas experienced anthrax outbreaks, businesses nationwide adjusted mail handling procedures. Many companies instructed people sorting mail to wear gloves and a dust mask, although these procedures did not protect the rest of the worker’s body or the person sitting next to him or her, Mingo said.
He was inspired to create the ME-1 because his pregnant girlfriend sat next to the designated mail sorter at Terra Surveys. The company now uses the ME-1 to sort mail.
Mingo called Leturno on Oct. 25 to brainstorm ideas for the project, Leturno recalls.
Both men are promoting their invention while working other jobs. Mingo is senior vice president of TNT Painting & Contracting Inc. of Anchorage, and Leturno is a Federal Aviation Administration certified aircraft mechanic. Their company, Mail Safe Delivery Systems, is based in Wasilla. The pair also used their knowledge of hazardous materials handling to develop the system.
"We’re selling a whole lot more peace of mind than a mask and a respirator," Leturno said.
They applied for a patent in mid-November.
The ME-1 has a glass panel on the lid to view mail handled inside the box. One side has two carefully sealed arm holes with attached protective gloves so mail can be sorted. If a substance is considered suspicious, the ME-1 can be locked and handed to response personnel.
Designed as a tabletop model, the ME-1 weighs 32.5 pounds.
Leturno provided technical expertise on the project and experimented with designs in plastic and steel before settling on wood.
"We had a cabinet shop in town make it out of wood," Mingo said.
During research they studied similar products made from various materials. Mingo and Leturno said their product is less expensive at $399 than other models at $850 and more. U.S. Marshals use similar containment systems for checking materials, Mingo said.
The wood design is more suited to an office setting than other models, they said. "We have the only furniture-style one," Mingo said.
They are marketing the ME-1 to East Coast businesses via an e-mail to 11,000 companies. That region has the greatest perceived threat, Leturno said.
Arctic Office Products of Anchorage added the ME-1 to its showroom for several weeks in late November and early December, said sales manager Jerry Greer. "I think there’s a place and a time for everything so we decided to try it to see if this is the time and the place," he said.
However, by mid-December the retailer had removed the product from display since post office leaders asserted the mail was safe, Greer said.
Arctic Office Products had not sold any ME-1s, he said.
A master cabinet maker in San Francisco is prepared to produce orders, Leturno said. It didn’t make good business sense to ship materials to Alaska for production then ship a finished product back to the Lower 48, he said.
Plaschem Supply & Consulting Inc. of Anchorage is producing some parts for the ME-1, Leturno said.
Products for the Alaska market will be manufactured here, Mingo said.
They are prepared to produce 10,000 to 20,000 units in the next year, Leturno said. That number could rise if demand increases based on more anthrax outbreaks, Mingo said.
For now there’s an obvious need for the product, Leturno said. "If the need goes away then everybody will be safer," he said.
Mingo and Leturno are now developing the ME-2, which features a negative atmosphere and an exhaust filtering system. They also can design custom mail room safety systems.