Feb 3, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Test results announced today confirmed that a white powder found yesterday in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office was ricin, a deadly poison derived from castor beans, according to news services.
The three US Senate office buildings remained closed today after preliminary tests yesterday indicated that the powder was ricin. Frist, a Tennessee Republican, announced as the Senate session opened today that the confirmatory tests on the powder were positive for ricin, according to a New York Times report. Frist said no ricin had been found outside his office.
Frist's office is in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. That building, along with the Hart and Russell office buildings, was closed "to facilitate the collection and removal of unopened mail," said a notice on Frist's Web site. The Capitol building remained open and the Senate met, but Capitol restaurants were closed and tours were canceled.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said the powder was found about 3 p.m. yesterday in a mailroom attached to Frist's offices, according to the Washington Post and other news services. Six of eight preliminary tests on the powder indicated it was ricin, the Post reported.
There were no immediate reports of illness in connection with the ricin discovery.
As little as 500 micrograms of ricin, a dose about the size of a pinhead, could be lethal to a person injected with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A larger dose would be required to cause death by inhalation or swallowing. Symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on the route of exposure.
It was unclear whether the mysterious powder had arrived in the mail, according to the Post. Gainer said that a postal worker reported that powder had been found in the mailroom near Frist's office on the fourth floor, but no one knew what package it had arrived in, the story said.
The Times report said that at least 16 people who work on the same floor as Frist's office underwent decontamination. It appeared that decontamination was carried out in a van parked outside the Dirksen building, according to the Post.
Frist said this morning that the ricin attack is a criminal investigation, according to the Times report.
The ricin discovery came more than 2 years after someone mailed envelopes containing anthrax powder to the offices of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in October 2001. The Hart building was closed for months afterward for decontamination.
CDC ricin page
CDC fact sheet on ricin
CIDRAP News story on ricin contamination in Greenville, N.C., in October 2003