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Officials Suspected Toxin Mix-Up Years Ago

Officials at a Federal training facility that mistakenly exposed thousands of first responders to deadly ricin toxin were worried five years ago that their vendor shipped the wrong type of powder, records obtained by USA TODAY show.

The vial of powder contained ricin, “greater than 90% pure,” according to its certificate of analysis. The certificate warned, “Extremely toxic! May be lethal if ingested, inhaled, or ingested — use caution when handling.” Ricin, made from cantor beans, is regulated as a potential bio-terror agent. There is no antidote for ricin poisoning.

The vendor assured staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Center for Domestic Preparedness that the powder was a safer, inactivated form of the poison, according to an email in December 2011.

FEMA used the powder in its training programs — and for five years kept buying more of it for use in classes — despite the vials continuing to arrive with certificates declaring that the powder was lethal, nearly pure ricin, the records show.

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