AUSTIN, Texas -- 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 planned, officials said yesterday.
The 19-year-old student, who said she unwrapped the chunky powder in her dormitory laundry room Thursday, and her roommate were checked at a hospital for potential exposure to the poison, although neither had any symptoms, officials said. Preliminary tests for ricin came back positive Friday.
''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 of the university student health services.
Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, sweating, severe vomiting, and dehydration.
The episode was being investigated by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and the campus police. The FBI is 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 is 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.
The white powder appeared when Heinbaug spilled the coins out of a coin wrapper onto her dorm room desk, Spalding said. The roll of coins was one of two given to the student by her mother, said campus police spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon.
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.
Toxicologists say ricin can be made easily in an ordinary kitchen.
Once a person has been exposed to ricin, the poison can prevent cells from making proteins, causing the cells to die and eventually impairing the whole body.
In 2005, an Algerian man, Kamel Bourgass, whom officials said was trained by Al Qaeda, was convicted in a plot to spread ricin throughout streets in Britain.
In New York, meanwhile, a drum maker who became infected with anthrax after inhaling spores from raw animal hides remained in serious condition yesterday as officials again sought to reassure the public there was no public health risk.
The condition of Vado Diomande, 44, was a change from Wednesday, when officials said he was breathing on his own and in relatively good shape for someone exposed to anthrax.
''He is in serious trouble," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference Friday. ''Inhalation anthrax is very often fatal. . . . I think your prayers have to be with him."
Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where Diomande was staying, issued a statement saying he had ''experienced increased difficulty breathing during the course of the day, resulting in a change in his condition to serious."
Seven people who may have been exposed to the hides -- including members of Diomande's family and a fellow craftsman -- also were being treated with antibiotics, but city officials stressed that this was only a precaution, and that investigators had found no evidence of any serious threat to public health.
Officials said testing had indicated the presence of low levels of anthrax at the Brooklyn warehouse where Diomande worked and at his apartment in Greenwich Village. But Bloomberg insisted that the finding ''is not a surprise and should not cause alarm." Both sites, he added, will undergo an extensive cleanup.
Diomande told authorities that he had also bought hides from a supplier in Brooklyn. Investigators went to the supplier's home and found 50 to 60 hides in a garage, which they have quarantined to test for signs of anthrax.
Anthrax is a bacterial disease that affects wild and domestic animals, from which it can be transmitted to humans. The inhaled form is the most dangerous, initially causing flu-like symptoms and, if untreated, hemorrhaging of the lungs and brain. It is typically treated with antibiotics for 60 days.
In 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist assault, a series of anthrax letter attacks around the United States killed five people and sickened 17.
Material from Reuters was included in this report.