What is the USPS® Biohazard Detection System?

What is the USPS® Biohazard Detection System?

The United States Postal Service® is committed to keeping its employees and customers safe. To help counter the threat of anthrax in the mail, the Postal Service™ has developed a Biohazard Detection System (BDS) that will detect anthrax in the mail. The system is designed for the highest possible level of detection.

Within days of discovering that anthrax had been found in the mail system, the Postal Service commissioned the first ever, rapid test for biohazards in the mail system. Extensive research and testing resulted in a combination of the latest technologies.

The BDS - Biohazard Detection System - employs proven technology and was designed exclusively for the Postal Service.

  • The BDS uses sophisticated DNA matching to detect the presence of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) in the mail.
  • It continuously collects air samples from mail canceling equipment while it is operating.

Northrop Grumman, Smiths Detection of Edgewood, MD, and other team members designed the BDS system that has been in operation in the Baltimore processing and distribution center since June of 2002. The other team members are Cepheid Inc. of Sunnyvale, CA, and MRI - Midwest Research Inc. / Sceptor Industries of Kansas City, MO.

  • In December 2002, the Postal Service awarded Northrop Grumman and the other team members a pre-production contract to expand and continue testing the system.
  • A contract for the initial purchase of 742 units was awarded in May of 2003.
  • The annual expenses associated with the devices were between $75 million to $100 million.
  • Installation was finished in 2006.


How Does the Biohazard Detection System Function?

The Biohazard Detection System (BDS) equipment collects samples of air as the mail moves through a canceling machine.

  1. The BDS absorbs the airborne particles into a sterile water base. This creates a liquid sample that can be tested.
  2. The liquid sample is injected into a cartridge, and the automated test for a DNA match is performed.

    Note: All the BDS processes are automated.

The BDS unit consists of an air-collection hood, a cabinet where the collection and analysis devices are housed, a local computer network connection, and a site controller – a networked computer.

  • Why is the BDS Needed?
    • The BDS will enable early identification of anthrax providing for a rapid response.
    • BDS helps us maintain our commitment to keep employees and customers safe.
  • What is the Science Behind the Biohazard Detection System?

    The core of the system is polymerase chain reaction (PCR).  It is a process that essentially “photocopies” the genes of a sample and compares the sample to a template for the anthrax DNA sequence to see if there is a match.

  • When is a BDS Test Complete?
    • After approximately 90 minutes – one hour for the air collection process and 30 minutes to test the air sample.
    • Since air sample collections are continuous, test results will be known every hour after the initial test.
  • How Many Air Samples Are Taken During the Day?

    Continuous air collection will take place while the mail canceling operation is underway. There are no gaps.

  • How Do You Find Out if There is a Positive Match?

Add Feedback