Officials: Letter with ricin sent to Mississippi Sen. Wicker, found at off-site mail facility


WASHINGTON — An envelope addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi tested positive today for ricin, a potentially fatal poison, congressional officials said, heightening concerns about terrorism a day after a deadly bombing killed three and left more than 170 injured at the Boston Marathon.

Wicker's office issued a statement saying "any inquiries regarding member security must be directed to the United States Capitol Police."

Capitol Police had no immediate comment.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters of the test, and other lawmakers said they had been briefed by the office of the Senate Sergeant At Arms.

Mail addressed to congressional offices in Washington is has been routinely screened at an off-site facility since anthrax attacks in 2001, and there was no evidence it was ever delivered to Wicker's office.

Milt Leitenberg, a University of Maryland bioterrorism expert, said ricin is a poison derived from the same bean that makes castor oil. He said it must be ingested to be fatal.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the letter was discovered at a mail processing plant in Prince George's County in suburban Maryland.

"Luckily, this was discovered at the processing center off premises," Durbin said. He said all mail to senators is "roasted, toasted, sliced and opened" before it ever gets to them.