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Senate Offices Warned To Be Vigilant After Ricin-Tainted Letter Sent To Sen. Wicker

Letter sent to Wicker was postmarked from Memphis.

Posted on April 16, 2013, at 8:02 p.m. ET

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
J. Scott Applewhite, File / AP

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

WASHINGTON — In the wake of an envelope reportedly tainted with ricin being sent to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker's office, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms is warning Capitol Hill offices to be vigilant and advising them that mail is being stopped for two to three days in a communication obtained by BuzzFeed. A Postal Sentry device is also being made available to Senate offices to make the opening of mail safer. And the letter turns out to have been postmarked from Memphis, Tennessee:

The Senate Mail Handling Facility that services Members' D.C. offices has received mail that tested positive for ricin. The United States Capitol Police, the FBI and other agencies are involved in the investigation of this mailing.

While we have no indication that there are other suspect mailings, it is imperative to follow all mail handling protocols, including the use of Postal Sentry in state offices. The Senate off-site mail facility will be closed for the next two to three days while testing and the law enforcement investigation continues.

The exterior markings on the envelope in this case were not outwardly suspicious, but it was postmarked from Memphis, Tennessee and had no return address. Even with these identifiers, Senate employees should be vigilant in their mail handling processes for ALL mailings.

These incidents are reminders that we need to remain vigilant in handling mail, recognizing suspicious items, and knowing what immediate actions to employ if faced with suspicious mail in the office. Attached to this Notice are hand-outs that provide valuable information on how to identify a suspicious package or letter, hazardous mail protocol for D.C. offices (red border), and hazardous mail protocol for state offices (black border). These hand-outs provide staff with an understanding of what a suspicious item looks like and specific actions to take if a suspicious mail item is discovered in the office.

The Senate Post Office offers the Postal Sentry mail processing system for Senate state offices to contain potentially harmful agents that may be delivered via the mail. The Postal Sentry is really the only defense available in state offices for this type of threat. The Postal Sentry is a lightweight desktop device that provides sufficient airflow and filtration to reduce the release of potentially harmful particles while opening mail in an office setting. Senate state offices that are using the Postal Sentry have found the device's operation intuitive, easy to set up, and quick to master.

The Postal Sentry is available to all Senate state offices at no cost. The shipment includes the Postal Sentry (36"w x 20" h x 18" d), a setup and instruction manual, one box of non-latex gloves, one N-100 respirator, one 8 x 11 "Suspicious Mail Poster" and one 8 x 11 poster on "How to Respond to Hazardous Substances in the Mail Area." If needed, training can be provided via phone or video teleconferencing, where available.

Update: A spokesperson for the United States Postal Service said the agency was "working diligently" to figure out the incident in an email to BuzzFeed on Tuesday:

The U.S. Postal Service is working diligently with authorities to determine if there was in fact a hazardous substance inside an envelope addressed to a U.S. Senator, and if so, what type of substance was present.

The Postal Inspection Service is working with appropriate Health and Law Enforcement agencies on this incident. We have no reports of other such letters in the mail.

Our primary concern right now is the safety of our employees, the safety of our customers and the safety of the US Mail.

More information will be shared when it becomes available.
(8:47 p.m.)

Update: An FBI spokesperson released a statement saying that the materials are currently being tested:

Anytime suspicious powder is located in a mail facility, field tests are conducted. The field and other preliminary tests in this instance produced inconsistent results. The material has been sent to an accredited laboratory for further analysis. Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin. Those tests are in the process of being conducted and generally take from 24 to 48 hours.
(10:43 p.m.)