FBI investigates ricin found at Vt. senior-living community

Published: Nov. 29, 2017 at 7:57 AM EST
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Police responded to an alarming call from someone at Wake Robin in Shelburne Tuesday morning. A suspicious substance was discovered and they worried about possible exposure to a deadly poison at the senior-living facility. A hazmat team quickly responded to the scene.

An initial test determined the substance was ricin. That was confirmed by the Vermont Health Department. How the ricin got there and why it was there are still under investigation.

"It's still early in the investigation, so we're still looking at all possibilities," Acting Shelburne Police Chief Aaron Noble said.

Shelburne police officers were the first to arrive. They handed the investigation over to the feds.

"The FBI became involved and became the lead agency," Noble said.

Wake Robin residents were evacuated from the potentially contaminated area where the ricin was found.

Ricin is found naturally in castor beans. It's then processed into the deadly poison. We asked Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine about the dangers.

"It's a potent substance but, at the same time, it depends again how much you come in contact with," Levine said.

It doesn't appear anyone did. WCAX News was told there are no confirmed illnesses and everyone in the community is safe. We are told one resident was taken to the hospital for possible ricin exposure but there are still no reported cases of ricin poisoning.

Levine says if someone was exposed, the symptoms include severe respiratory distress and gastrointestinal issues, and if not treated quickly, it could lead to death.

"There is no antidote for the poison but there is supportive care that all of our hospitals are capable of delivering," Levine said.

Symptoms usually occur within 10 hours of exposure.

It's a poison that's new to Vermont.

"To my knowledge, it's not been seen in Vermont before," Levine said.

"Not in my 25 years, we haven't seen anything like this," Noble said.

We're trying to get answers from the FBI about whether the ricin was mailed and if so, to whom and by whom, and where it was found at the facility. The feds had not yet responded to our numerous calls when this story was published.