By Lisa Scagliotti
and Chea Waters Evans
State and federal authorities Wednesday were investigating an incident involving possible exposure to the toxic poison ricin at the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne.
First responders were called to the center Tuesday morning to investigate a report of possible exposure to a toxic substance.
According to a joint public statement from state and federal officials, an initial field test was positive for ricin, and that was confirmed with a subsequent test by the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory.
“At this time no one from the public is in danger,” officials said in a joint statement issued Wednesday morning by the Vermont Department of Public Safety, the state Department of Health and the FBI.
Authorities said they consider the incident isolated and the FBI is investigating.
“No individuals have been identified as being exposed, nor are expected, based on the last possible date of exposure on Sunday, Nov. 26. All areas potentially exposed by this substance have been evacuated and secured by law enforcement,” the statement said.
According to the health department, ricin is an extremely toxic poison found naturally in castor beans.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, castor beans are processed throughout the world to make castor oil, which many people praise for its medicinal and nutritional values. Ricin is part of the waste “mash” produced when castor oil is made. It has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells. Ricin may be formed into a powder that can be inhaled or ingested.
It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people. Unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, except through the ingestion of castor beans.
Symptoms of exposure most likely occur within four to 10 hours and vary, depending on whether it was inhaled or swallowed, the health department said.
Wake Robin spokeswoman Charlotte Lyman late Tuesday afternoon said that the leadership team there was notified about a possible toxic substance at a resident’s home. She said Wake Robin officials are working with investigators.
“We don’t believe that any other individuals have been affected by this incident,” she said.
Aaron Noble, Shelburne’s acting police chief, said he would be meeting with FBI officials Wednesday at Wake Robin.
No additional information was available about the ongoing investigation before The Citizen’s publishing deadline Wednesday.