As you are well aware, the toxin ricin can be deadly.
What you may not know is that it is the second most toxic molecule in the world—even more toxic that VX nerve gas. Even worse, ricin can be obtained from a natural source, since castor beans contain this toxin.
FEMA uses a portion of the ricin molecule to train emergency responders to handle toxic compounds in case terrorists get their hands on this compound.
Much to their horror, staff at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Alabama noticed a discrepancy in the paperwork when they were ordering more of the ricin A-chain in November 2016.
Standard protocol for this type of training involves working with several biological and chemical agents. Normally, the exercises use a less toxic partial ricin molecule.
However, the vendor that was supposed to be shipping the less dangerous molecule instead sent the lethal form of ricin.
Fortunately none of the trainees were poisoned. They all wore full Level C protective equipment when they trained with the agent. This high level protective gear is comparable to what US military personnel wear during their training at similar facilities.
In fact, the trainees take protective measures that are appropriate for the most dangerous agents known. Their gear exceeded the level of protection required to work with ricin slurry.
However, out of an abundance of caution, FEMA ceased all biological and chemical operations until February 2017.
FEMA will improve its safety protocols for biological agents. This includes hiring an independent, third party to test any biological agents it receives. In addition, FEMA is seeking accreditation from the American Biological Safety Association.
The agency also requested that the DHS Inspector General investigate the issue.