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BioterrorismLawmakers want to know more about Ricin mix-up

Published 6 January 2017

Members of the Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter on 23 December to FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, demanding answers on how many years had first responders unknowingly trained with toxic Ricin at Anniston’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP). In a three-page letter, members of the committee demanded answers for  twelve questions, addressing the issue of how lethal toxin was used and the agency’s response once it found out about the mix-up.

Ricinus communis plant, the source of ricin // Source: theconversation.com

Members of the Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter on 23 December to FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, demanding answers on how many years had first responders unknowingly trained with toxic Ricin at Anniston’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP).

AL.com reports that in a three-page letter, members of the committee demanded answers for  twelve questions, addressing the issue of how lethal toxin was used and the agency’s response once it found out about the mix-up.

The letter was signed by the chairman of the committee, Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), Dan Donovan (R-New York), and Donald Payne Jr. (D-New Jersey).

The letter demands answers in writing by 19 January. AL. com notes that its November report revealed that almost 10,000 first responders were exposed to toxic Ricin at the center over a five-year period.

An investigation is on-going, as all training has been suspended with chemical or biological agents through January.

FEMA said the center began its training with Ricin in 2011, and that 9,648 first responders unknowingly used the toxic form of ricin. No instructors or trainees exhibited any effects or sickness.

CDP said that in November, its officials discovered that the center had received the toxic form of the material, Ricin holotoxin, and not the less toxic, Ricin A-chain, as ordered.

The congressional panel was notified on 13 December of the Ricin mix-up and that the CDP had suspended biological training sessions. The committee’s letter notes that this took place nearly a month after the mix-up was first reported.

Committee members in the letter stated they were “concerned that FEMA did not engage its Congressional oversight committees for nearly a month after it discovered that nearly 9,600 first responders and CDP staff had been exposed…”

The committee wants to know specific dates when FEMA leadership learned that the holotoxin was being used, how the toxin was procured, and any review of its procedures. In addition, the committee wants to know the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the training activities at the CDP, and how first responders who trained there and center staff were notified of the Ricin use.

The letter also requests information on the protective gear worn by trainees and instructors.

Ricin is a toxic natural poison made from castor beans. Effects from exposure typically show up within a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It has been used as a poison and weaponized in war and acts of terrorism.