A University of Texas student found a substance in a roll of quarters that tested positive for ricin, a potentially deadly poison, but more tests were needed, officials said Saturday.
The 19-year-old student, who said she unwrapped the powder in her dormitory room Thursday, and her roommate were checked at a hospital for potential exposure to the poison, although neither had any symptoms, officials said.
One preliminary test indicated the substance was ricin, but subsequent tests did not indicate the presence of the poison, said Mike Elliott, senior district commander with Austin emergency management services.
Elliott said authorities were "pretty confident" the material was not ricin but that further tests needed top confirm that conclusion would take a day or two.
“I guess you can say I was just weirded out,” said Kelly Heinbaugh, a freshman kinesiology major. “It seemed out of place ... I figured I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Because people with ricin poisoning develop symptoms within a few hours of exposure, university officials were confident all the students would be fine, said Dr. Theresa Spalding with university student health services.
Symptoms can include anything from difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and sweating to severe vomiting and dehydration.
The university said preliminary test showed the substance to be ricin, but the FBI was conducting further tests, FBI spokesman Rene Salinas said.
“There is nothing to lead us to believe that it is in fact a terrorist act,” he said. “There’s no link to any terrorism.”
Officials said the roll of quarters had been in the students’ room at the Moore-Hill dormitory for several months.
The dormitory was sanitized and inspected, and students were cleared to return, the university said.
“We feel like we have taken every precaution possible to assure the safety and health of our students,” university spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said.
Ricin is extracted from castor beans and can be added to food or water, injected or sprayed as an aerosol. It can be in the form of a powder, mist, pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.