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Letter sent to Obama tested positive for ricin, official says

April 17, 2013|By Brian Bennett and Kathleen Hennessey

WASHINGTON -- An envelope addressed to President Obama and intercepted at a mail processing facility has tested positive for the poison ricin, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Officials are conducting additional tests to confirm the result, said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the press because the tests are part of an ongoing investigation. Investigators believe the letter to the White House may have been sent by the same person who mailed a suspicious envelope to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

What is ricin?

Here's a look at ricin, a poison made from waste remaining after castor beans are processed into oil.

Ricin castor bean pod and bean
How it works: Ricin gets inside cells and prevents them from making proteins. Without proteins, cells die. Forms: Powder, mist or pellet. Methods of exposure: Ingestion, inhalation or injection. Symptoms: If inhaled, respiratory distress, fever, cough, nausea, sweating, fluid buildup in lungs. If ingested, vomiting and bloody diarrhea, seizures, hallucinations. Symptom onset: If inhaled, possibly within eight hours. If ingested, typically less than six hours. Results: Low blood pressure and respiratory failure; spleen, liver and kidney malfunction, leading to death. Time of death: Could be 36 to 72 hours, depending on the dose and method of transmission. Treatment: No antidote or specific vaccine, but effects can be treated.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Los Angeles Times

The Secret Service confirmed that a “suspicious substance” was found on a letter addressed to the president and intercepted Tuesday. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan did not comment on the nature of the substance.

“The Secret Service is working closely with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI in this investigation,” Donovan said in a statement.

FBI field offices in Baltimore and Jackson, Miss., are also assisting in the investigation.

All White House mail is processed at a remote facility not located at the White House complex. It is common for letters to be flagged and tested for suspicious substances, officials said.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Twitter: @bybrianbennett

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