(TNS) - Anniston's Center for Domestic Preparedness has suspended use of all chemical and biological material until further notice as officials continue to probe how almost 10,000 first responders were exposed to toxic ricin over a five-year period.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General is investigating how people at the center may have come in contact with the poison.
In an announcement posted on its website, FEMA announced that the decision to suspend use of the substances through January had been made "out of an abundance of caution."
"Any training affected or postponed will be rescheduled pending the completion of our assessment and the implementation of any recommendations for improved processes at the facility, if appropriate," the statement read.
According to FEMA, the center began training with ricin as early as 2011, and 9,648 students used the toxic form unknowingly during that time. No workers or trainees showed apparent effects or sickness over that priod.
The CDP trains emergency responders from across the nation in dealing with chemical, radiological and biological events through the Department of Homeland Security. The training deals with natural disasters as well as possible acts of terrorism.
Officials last week said the CDP in November discovered that due to an error by the supplier of the biological material ricin, the CDP received the toxic form of the material, ricin holotoxin, and not less toxic, ricin A-chain, as ordered.
Since then, the center has also discovered additional ricin training material. Officials said a solution marked A-chain remains securely stored on the premises. "This material was not received from the vendor in question and we are working with the appropriate authorities to safely dispose of the additional ricin material," FEMA said in a statement.
"CDP follows strict protocols for handling this biological material, including use of appropriate protective equipment and procedures. Our ongoing inquiry indicates that there are additional measures that we could have taken," officials said.
According to CDP protocols, any use of ricin was performed by center personnel while wearing safety equipment inside a biosafety cabinet.
Ricin is an extremely toxic natural poison made from castor beans. It kills cells by preventing them from making proteins needed to survive. Effects from exposure typically show up within a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Ricin poisoning is not contagious, though associated illnesses can occur through person-to-person contact. It has been used as a poison and weaponized in war and acts of terrorism.
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