FBI investigating discovery of ricin at Wake Robin

Photo by Garrett Brown
Crews from Shelburne Fire Department and the Vermont State Hazardous Materials Response Team were on site Tuesday at Wake Robin to investigate a report of a toxic substance at the Shelburne retirement community. Testing by the state Department of Health confirmed the presence of ricin in an apartment.

By Lisa Scagliotti
and Chea Waters Evans

State and federal authorities Wednesday were investigating an incident involving possible exposure to the toxic poison ricin at the Wake Robin retirement community.

First responders were called to the center Tuesday morning to investigate a report of possible exposure to a toxic substance.

Shelburne Police and Fire Department personnel responded along with a Vermont Hazardous Materials Team, which eventually called in the FBI.

According to a joint public statement from state and federal officials, an initial field test was positive for ricin, and that was confirmed with a subsequent test by the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory.

“At this time no one from the public is in danger,” officials said in a joint statement issued Wednesday morning by the Vermont Department of Public Safety, the state Department of Health and the FBI.

Authorities said they consider the incident isolated and the FBI is investigating.

“No individuals have been identified as being exposed, nor are expected, based on the last possible date of exposure on Sunday, Nov. 26. All areas potentially exposed by this substance have been evacuated and secured by law enforcement,” the statement said.

Despite the official statement, a source told the Shelburne News that the inquiry began after a Wake Robin resident went to UVM Medical Center Monday for an unspecified medical issue. During the hospital visit, a decision was made to alert Wake Robin about a possible exposure to a toxin, the source said.

A hospital spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday before presstime.

According to the health department, ricin is an extremely toxic poison found naturally in castor beans.

The federal Centers for Disease Control notes that castor beans are processed throughout the world to make castor oil, which many people praise for its medicinal and nutritional values. Ricin is part of the waste “mash” produced when castor oil is made. It has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells. Ricin may be formed into a powder that can be inhaled or ingested.

It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people, the CDC says. Unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, except through the ingestion of castor beans.

Symptoms of exposure most likely occur within four to 10 hours and vary, depending on whether it was inhaled or swallowed, the state health department said.

Wake Robin spokeswoman Charlotte Lyman said late Tuesday that the leadership team there was notified about a possible toxic substance at a resident’s home.

She said Wake Robin officials were working with investigators.

“We don’t believe that any other individuals have been affected by this incident,” she said.

Aaron Noble, Shelburne’s acting police chief, said he would be meeting with FBI officials Wednesday at Wake Robin. The FBI referred all calls to its Albany, N.Y., office where a spokesman was not available to comment further on the investigation.

Shelburne News correspondent Mike Donoghue contributed to this report.

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