Deja Vu: A Letter Sent to Capitol Hill Just Tested Positive for Ricin

Philip Bump
Deja Vu: A Letter Sent to Capitol Hill Just Tested Positive for Ricin

In an eerie if incongruous reminder of the anthrax attacks after 9/11, a preliminary test appears to indicate that an envelope sent to a U.S. Senate office contained the poisonous protein ricin. Politico and CBS report that the recipient was Mississippi's Roger Wicker.

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#BREAKING: An envelope sent to an office of Sen. Roger Wicker included a substance that has tested positive for Ricin, two sources say.

— POLITICO (@politico) April 16, 2013

The letter was apparently received at the Capitol's remote mail processing facility. After a routine test identified the presence of ricin on the envelope, CNN reports that it was tested two additional times, confirming the presence of the poison each time. CBS disputes that:

JUST IN: @cbsnews confirms letter sent to US Sen. Wicker (R-MS) PRELIMINARILY tested positive for ricin poison, further testing required.

— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 16, 2013

Despite saying it had been tested three times, CNN's Dana Bash also indicated that the letter was being sent to Maryland for further testing.

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Ricin is a natural component of castor beans. In late 2011, after four men were arrested in Georgia for loosely plotting terror attacks involving the poison, the Los Angeles Times explained what makes the compound so deadly.

It can be formed into a powder, mist or pellet, or even added to water, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indeed, even the symptoms of ricin poisoning might not raise an alarm until it's too late. They begin benignly enough — respiratory distress, followed by nausea, coughing, fever and, ultimately perhaps, death.

It then somberly notes: there's no known antidote.

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In the aftermath of the Boston bombing, the announcement quickly brought to mind the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when media personalities and elected officials received letters containing anthrax. Those attacks were ultimately linked to a scientist named Bruce Ivins. Ivins committed suicide in 2008, leaving his involvement in the attacks uncertain.

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According to Politico, the directors of Homeland Security and the FBI are currently briefing senators.