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No Terrorism Link Is Seen in Ricin Discovery

October 23, 2003|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An envelope containing a vial of ricin was found by postal workers at a mail-handling facility in South Carolina, government officials said Wednesday, although they added that they did not believe the incident was linked to terrorism. No one appeared to have become ill from exposure to the poison, they said.

The package, which bore what officials described only as "suspicious markings," was discovered last Thursday at a mail facility near the Greenville, S.C., airport, officials said. Postal authorities quickly summoned a hazardous-materials team and the FBI, and the envelope and its contents were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing.

The vial was not opened until it reached the CDC laboratories, the FBI said. The bureau was notified Tuesday that the vial tested positive for ricin.

While the discovery evoked memories of the powdered anthrax that was sent through the mail two years ago, killing five people, officials quickly sought to downplay the possibility that terrorism was involved.

"Based upon the evidence that we have thus far, we do not believe this is linked to terrorism but is related to threats that are criminal in nature," said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

A spokesman for the FBI office in Columbia, S.C., which is overseeing the case, said there were no suspects and the investigation was continuing.

The amount of toxin in the envelope was no more than an ounce or two, said the official, noting that a much larger quantity would be required to poison a reservoir and endanger public health on a large scale.

Exposure to ricin can cause respiratory damage or severe internal bleeding; the likelihood of death depends on the level of exposure. There is no antidote.

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