Federal agents intercepted a package addressed to President Donald Trump earlier this week that was later discovered to contain ricin, a deadly substance for which there is no available antidote, according to reports from multiple news outlets.
Citing law enforcement officials, CNN reports that the substance was confirmed to be ricin with two tests, and the FBI and Secret Service are conducting an investigation. (Other news outlets have said the substance was in a letter or envelope, not a package).
A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Investigations told The Wall Street Journal that there is “no known threat to public safety” at this time, and confirmed that its agents, in conjunction with the Secret Service and Postal Inspection Service, are “investigating” a letter that was sent to a mail facility.
According to The New York Times, which cites a “law enforcement official briefed on the inquiry,” officials believe the substance was sent from Canada, although nothing has yet been determined. A law enforcement official later told the Times that the substance was caught before it reached the White House. Other letters also containing ricin were reportedly sent to unspecified federal agencies in Texas.
“Federal investigators are working to track down who sent it and determine whether other envelopes have been sent through the postal system,” reports The New York Times.
Ricin is created using the waste from processing castor beans, which are the source of castor oil, and is considered a biological weapon that is extremely dangerous if inhaled or ingested, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Signs and symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on whether a person inhales or ingests ricin. Inhaled ricin causes fever, chest tightness, cough and severe respiratory problems, including fluid buildup in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Ingested ricin causes intestinal bleeding and organ damage. The poison can kill within three days of exposure. Even a small amount of ricin may be fatal,” according to the Mayo Clinic’s informational page on ricin. “No widely available, reliable test exists to confirm exposure to ricin. There’s no vaccine or antidote for ricin poisoning. Treatment is primarily supportive care.”
Back in 2018, two letters that tested positive for ricin were sent to the Pentagon, addressed to then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, reported the WSJ. A letter was also sent to President Trump. The letters failed to reach their intended target, and authorities later discovered that the letters didn’t contain ricin, but castor beans, the raw material used to create ricin.
William Clyde Allen, a 39-year-old Navy veteran, was detained in Utah for the 2018 incident soon after. He was charged with seven counts, including mailing a threat to the President of the United States, but his case is still pending.
This article has been expanded after publication to include additional information. An earlier version of this article stated that reports were unsure as to whether the package had reached the White House. That information has been updated.