There is presently a concern because the US Postal Service now has 8 electron beam accelerators to treat mail in locations along the east coast and that a sufficient dosage to destroy Anthrax is also strong enough to darken and weaken the paper in the postal envelopes. In addition to direct photolytic scission of the cellulose chain, irradiation darkens paper, swells pulp fibres, increases hygroscopicity, and renders the cellulose more soluble in alkaline solution and more susceptible to acid hydrolysis. This report will focus on the effect of electron beam irradiation on degradation of cellulose of fine papers. Three reference papers were selected, sorted into postal envelopes and exposed to electron beam irradiation. The results have shown that irradiation at the dosage used to treat mail by the US Postal Service depolymerizes and oxidizes the cellulose. Depolymerization is responsible for a decrease of paper strength while oxidation induces darkening of the paper. Irradiating at high electron beam energy is less damaging than using lower energy. Moreover, linear relationships have been found between the number of chain scission (CSN) in cellulose and the irradiation dosage as well as between CSN and Zero-Span Breaking Length. These relationships make the strength loss predictable.
Carbonyls Carboxylic acid Cellulose Depolymerization Electron beam treatment Ionizing radiation Kraft pulp Molecular weight distribution