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FBI: Powder in dorm not ricin

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A University of Texas student found powder in a roll of coins Thursday that initially tested positive for ricin.

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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Bioterrorism
University of Texas at Austin

(CNN) -- A whitish-brown powder at the center of a poison scare at the University of Texas has tested negative for the powerful toxin ricin, an FBI spokesman said Sunday.

An initial lab test on the substance, which was discovered Thursday in a roll of quarters in a university laundry room, was positive for ricin. But subsequent tests have been negative, FBI spokesman Rene Salinas said.

Ricin is derived from castor beans and has no antidote. As little as 500 micrograms -- an amount the size of the head of a pin -- can kill an adult.

But no symptoms of ricin poisoning, which usually would have appeared within eight hours, have been reported, medical officials in Austin said.

A coin box from a washing machine in a University of Texas dormitory was taken for testing because the student who discovered the suspicious powder found it in a roll of quarters being used to do laundry Thursday.

Officials ordered the dormitory evacuated Friday night after the initial results came in, and hazardous materials teams examined a washing machine and other laundry room equipment Saturday for possible traces of ricin.

The residents of the Moore-Hill dormitory, about 390 people, were moved to another dorm, a school official said.

Final tests were conducted at an Army laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, said Courtney Bolen, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Highly toxic

Ricin is a potent poison.

In an infamous 1978 incident, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, was killed when a man attacked him with an umbrella that injected a ricin pellet under his skin.

Also, according to the CDC, "Some reports have indicated that ricin may have been used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s and that quantities of ricin were found in al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan."

Ricin is made from the waste "mash" produced when castor oil is extracted from castor beans.

If inhaled, ricin would cause difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and chest tightness within a few hours.

Heavy sweating might follow and fluid could build up in the lungs, resulting in low blood pressure and respiratory failure, perhaps leading to death.

If swallowed, ricin could cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea, resulting in severe dehydration and low blood pressure.

It also may cause hallucinations, seizures and blood in the urine. Within a few days, the person's liver, spleen and kidneys might stop working, resulting in death. No antidote for the poison exists.

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