CLEVELAND -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has acknowledged that hundreds of Ohio emergency responders were exposed to a potentially fatal toxin while training at a FEMA facility in Alabama.
The federal agency released a statement Wednesday saying it has received no reports of illness as a result of the ricin exposure.
Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans that kills cells by preventing them from creating protein. Exposure to the toxin can lead to death.
Staff at the FEMA facility mistakenly purchased high-toxicity ricin that was used in nine training sessions beginning in 2011.
FEMA officials say 121 Ohio public safety agencies and organizations have sent approximately 400 people to train at the facility in question since that time. Not all were exposed to the ricin.
FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness recognized an ongoing discrepancy in November in which ricin with a higher toxicity level was being purchased instead of the strain usually used for training, reports CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO-TV. The vendor, a private company that was registered on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Select Agent list, had provided the materials since 2011.
“Upon learning that a more toxic version of ricin had been received, and out of an abundance of caution, FEMA is ceasing all chemical and biological operations through January 2017,” said a statement from FEMA’s Center for Disease Preparedness.