Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2014

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Biological toxin found in Las Vegas motel

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A hazardous materials crew confers outside the Extended StayAmerica on 4270 South Valley View Boulevard after a suspicious substance was found Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008. Presumptive tests showed the substance to be ricin, Metro police said. Ricin is a toxin that can be made from castor beans.

Ricin, a deadly toxin, was discovered in a room at a weekly motel off Valley View Boulevard and Flamingo Road this afternoon.

The substance was brought to the attention of employees at Extended StayAmerica, 4270 S. Valley View Blvd., at approximately 2:30 p.m. by an unidentified man who gained access to one of the motel rooms, though he was not staying at the property, police said.

Hotel employees thought the substance looked suspicious and called police, who responded with the Clark County Fire Department.

Presumptive testing quickly revealed the substance was ricin and police shut down the property.

An ambulance driver wearing a protective mask took three motel employees, as well as the individual who found the ricin, to the hospital.

Crews from Metro Homeland Security detail, the Southern Nevada health district, and the FBI were called to the scene.

Ricin is derived from castor beans and can be deadly in small quantities, said Metro Sergeant Joseph Lombardo, head of the department’s Homeland security unit. It is used in cancer research, but is illegal to produce for any other reason.

Ricin can be delivered in a mist, a pellet or can be dissolved in water or weak acid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The toxin gets inside cells of a human body and prevents the cells from making vital protein. As little as 500 micrograms — an amount that fits on the head of a pin

— can kill an adult. It is not known how much was found in the hotel room.

Officers found the substance in a small vile along with actual castor beans, Lombardo said.

By 8 p.m. the scene was swarmed with TV news crews. Beyond the area blocked off by media, people in hazmat suits could be seen walking to and from the building. A white tent — a decontamination shower — was also set up outside.

Guests of the property, who were out when the incident occurred, found themselves shut out of their rooms, while guests inside were asked to stay in their rooms.

By 10:30 p.m. the clean up was still going on, but the ousted guests had a place to go — another motel down the street, this one billed "Deluxe."

This is not the first time ricin has caught the attention of law enforcement and health officials. In March 2003 a suicidal man told police he had injected himself with the toxin. Metro Police, the FBI, the Southern Nevada Health District and Clark County Fire Department authorities responded to a residence in the southwestern valley. The man died at a local hospital, but no neighbors were endangered.

— Sun reporter Mary Manning and photographer Steve Marcus contributed to this report.

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