Balto. Co. firm to build mail protector

Machines are to defend against biohazards

April 26, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

It's about the size of a clothes dryer, and, like the household appliance, uses an internal drum to spin its contents. But instead of warming wet garments, the MailDefender employs microwaves, high intensity light and an anti-microbial solution to kill anthrax, smallpox and other deadly biohazards in letters and small packages.

And it will soon be built by a Reisterstown company.

"It's a lifesaving machine," said Carl Livesay, a spokesman for Raloid Corp., the company that landed the deal to manufacture the MailDefender.

Raloid will build the devices for a Massachusetts company that hopes to sell them to government agencies and financial institutions and other private businesses. The Reisterstown company plans to build as many as 1,000 of the machines a week in a new facility.

The deal with Massachusetts-based BioDefense Corp., - Raloid's largest - could also mean 200 new jobs in Baltimore County.

Raloid is a government contractor that builds components for several defense systems, including Tomahawk missiles, according to company officials. The company, which employs 65, also builds commercial machinery, including train wheels and medical equipment.

Raloid President Anthony Jadra said he expects the company to begin producing the MailDefender in about four months at its Reisterstown location. The company will be responsible for shipping the machines to customers and coordinating manufacturing at plants in Massachusetts and New York. The new jobs will be a mix of labor and white-collar positions, Jadra said.

The company is looking to the Hunt Valley area to build a 40,000-to-60,000-square-foot facility, which should be completed in nine months to a year, Jadra said. The company chose Hunt Valley, he said, in part because it is easily accessible by mass transit.

"It allows us to pull people from a lot of different areas," he said.

David S. Iannucci, executive director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said that Raloid's expansion fits in with the growing defense and homeland security business in the county, including Lockheed Martin in Middle River and Rockwell Collins in White Marsh.

The county welcomes new jobs such as those planned by Raloid, "especially," he said, "in highly skilled areas that require expertise in engineering, design, precision manufacturing and security."

The MailDefender was developed by BioDefense in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, according to Jonathan Morrone, a company co-founder who is also director and senior vice president. But the company has been working to improve the technology for the MailDefender, which only recently came onto the market, he said.

Morrone said there has been a sizable demand for the device from government institutions and private industry. Many businesses can't afford to close when a "white powder scare" occurs, he said.

"Post 9/11, we live in a different world; a lot of the country's security weaknesses have been exposed," he said.

The lure of the product, Morrone said, is the price - it ranges from $60,000 to just over $100,000 - along with portability and the technology, which he believes is not being used by anyone else.

David Siegrist, a senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Virginia and director of studies for counter-biological terrorism, said he thinks a $60,000-price tag is steep. He agrees that there is an increasing demand for devices such as the MailDefender, though many individuals are no longer as concerned about biological threats as they were a few years ago.

"It's been years since the anthrax incidents in the U.S. and I think attention is waning on it. I think people are becoming complacent in the threat of bioterrorism," Siegrist said.

However, officials of organizations that receive a large quantity of mail are likely to have the possibility of an anthrax scare, or similar biological attack, on their minds, he said.

"I think there'd be an institutional market to neutralize threats," he said.

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