Reports of Ohio Valley first responders being potentially exposed to a lethal poison at FEMA training has many concerned, but the man whose employee actually went to that training says there is no cause for concern.
A Brooke County EMS worker attended training in Alabama this summer where poison ricin of a higher concentration than what is normally used for training was handled.
FEMA sent a letter to those at the training, telling them about the findings and that the HAZMAT suits they were wearing were at a level two-times higher than ricin at its very highest strength.
Brooke County EMS & EMA Director Bob Fowler released a statement Tuesday. He said, “There was no exposure to any of our employees during any of this training. There is no concern for the public that this person is walking around with this material exposing anyone. In fact, this was just a precautionary letter, a very nice letter from FEMA letting us know that this had happened, and the letter clearly states with the two times higher level of hazmat suit, there is no concern at this time.”
FEMA also released a statement about the training. FEMA said, “There is no higher priority than the health and safety of our employees and those we train, and out of an abundance of caution, FEMA is temporarily suspending all chemical and biological operations through January 2017.”
The decision to temporarily suspend all chemical and biological operations is a result of the internal inquiry occurring at CDP’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility (COBRATF) following the November 2016 recognition of discrepancies of several purchases of ricin used for specific first responder training at the facility. The ongoing evaluation of the safety culture in place at the facility will ensure it is strong, and that our processes, procedures and management will continue to ensure the safety of the students and employees.
While we advise students in advance that they will train in a toxic environment with agents that may be extremely hazardous, our various training materials specifically reference ricin A-chain (slurry form). The CDP recently determined the product supplied by the vendor, a private company registered on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Select Agent list, was holotoxin, the more toxic version of ricin.
In November 2016, while making a purchase of ricin A-chain for training, CDP staff recognized an ongoing discrepancy in the documentation related to the type of ricin being provided. The vendor has now said the more toxic holotoxin version of the materials was provided since 2011.
It was previously believed that all remaining ricin on campus had been destroyed. This week, it became known that, while CDP had indeed destroyed all of the ricin in question, additional ricin training material, 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.
For our students who have trained with us since January 2012, you know that CDP follows strict protocols for handling biological and chemical materials. At COBRATF, students work with several chemical and biological agents, and use protective measures appropriate for the most dangerous agents.
As an example, the protective gear you wore exceeded what would be required for working with ricin slurry. Students who trained with the agent were in full Level C personal protective equipment at all times when training. We have no indication that students were exposed directly to the holotoxin or harmed by it.
CDP wanted to personally inform you to ensure you are fully aware of the actual materials used during past training activities, as well as reinforce to you the efficacy of the personal protective equipment and the safety measures that were in place during training. As our review into the procurement and material validation processes continues, we will make additional improvements to those processes where appropriate. Responders such as yourself serve as the nation’s first line of defense and deserve the highest-quality training available.
Chemical and biological training operations will be rescheduled pending the completion of our assessment and the implementation of any recommendations for improved processes at the facility, if appropriate.
All other CDP training not associated with COBRATF will continue as scheduled.
We established a web page that will be updated as new information becomes available.
FEMA also released background facts on the investigation.
– In November 2016, while making a purchase of ricin A-chain for training, CDP staff recognized an ongoing discrepancy in the documentation related to the type of ricin being provided. The vendor, a private company that was registered on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Select Agent list, has now said the more toxic holotoxin version of the materials had been provided since 2011.
– Early this month, FEMA suspended all biological COBRATF training classes. Additional information on CDP classes impacted will be posted at https://cdp.dhs.gov/cdp-use-of-ricin.
– CDP notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Select Agent Program Office of this issue.
– On Nov. 21, the matter was referred to the DHS Office of Inspector General for a possible investigation into potential procurement fraud. It was referred to the regional OIG who has opened an investigation.
– On Dec. 15, FEMA requested OIG to conduct an independent inquiry to ensure transparency and assure the first responder community that FEMA will uphold the highest standards of safety in its programs.