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CDC concludes inspection of lab that supplied ricin; matter under review

Center for Domestic Preparedness

The Center for Domestic Preparedness, seen in a 2010 file photo. (Bill Wilson/ The Anniston Star/file)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff have concluded an inspection of a lab that sold the deadly toxin ricin by mistake to a federal training facility in Anniston, according to a CDC spokesman Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Center for Domestic Preparedness has placed the blame on the lab for a mix-up that resulted in thousands of civilian first responders at the Anniston center since 2011 unknowingly training with the toxic version of ricin, rather than a less toxic version the CDP has said was ordered.  

The lab’s manager, however, told The Star on Dec. 15 that the ricin was always properly labeled as the toxic version, and that the facility never offered the less toxic version of ricin for sale.  

The CDP has temporarily suspended all chemical and biological operations at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological unit, known as the COBRA facility, as an investigation into the problem continues.

Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, in a message to The Star on Thursday wrote that CDC inspectors have completed an inspection of the lab that sold ricin to the Anniston center.  The CDC’s policy is to not identify the name of labs registered in the Select Agent Program, he wrote.

USA Today on Dec. 15 reported that the vendor was Florida-based Toxin Technology, citing the account of a former employee. An official with that company earlier in December declined to confirm for The Star whether it had supplied the CDP, but said Toxin Technology has never sold the less-deadly version of ricin the Anniston lab intended to buy.   

Observations from the site visit are under review, McDonald wrote Thursday, and the CDC is considering a wide range of enforcement options if it is deemed the lab ran afoul of federal regulations. Such options include suspension and de-registration from the Select Agent Program and referral of the matter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and to the FBI, McDonald added.  

Attempts to reach Bill Rose, manager of Toxin Technology, on Thursday were unsuccessful. A person who answered the phone at the lab said Rose would not return to work until Monday.

The CDC oversees the possession, use and transfer of biological agents and toxins through the federal Select Agent Program, jointly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   

The CDP trains firefighters, emergency medical staff and other first responders from local agencies around the country to deal with disasters and attacks involving chemical and biological agents.

FEMA has said no students or workers at the COBRA facility have shown symptoms of ricin exposure due to the mix-up, however.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.