What is Ricin?

12:42 PM, Apr 17, 2013   |    comments
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Initial tests by the Secret Service indicate traces of ricin found in a letter sent to President Obama. You may be wondering what Ricin is.

Here's what the CDC says that Ricin is:

Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury.  Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans.

It can be in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.

It is a stable substance under normal conditions, but can be inactivated by heat above 80 degrees centigrade (176 degrees Fahrenheit).

Here's where the CDC says Ricin is found and how it is used:

Castor beans are processed throughout the world to make castor oil. Ricin is part of the waste "mash" produced when castor oil is made.

Ricin has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells.

Here's how the CDC says you could be exposed to Ricin:

It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people. Unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, except through the ingestion of castor beans.

If made into a partially purified material or refined into a terrorist or warfare agent, ricin could be used to expose people through the air, food, or water.

In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, died after he was attacked by a man with an umbrella. The umbrella had been rigged to inject a poison ricin pellet under Markov's skin.

In the 1940s the U.S. military experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent. In some reports ricin has possibly been used as a warfare agent in the 1980s in Iraq and more recently by terrorist organizations.

Ricin poisoning is not contagious. Ricin-associated illness cannot be spread from person to person through casual contact. However, if you come into contact with someone who has ricin on their body or clothes, you could become exposed to it.

Here's how the CDC says Ricin works:

Ricin works by getting inside the cells of a person's body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need. Without the proteins, cells die. Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur.

Effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether ricin was inhaled, ingested, or injected.

If you'd like to read more from the CDC, including how they confirm that a substance is Ricin and what to do if you come into contact with Ricin, go to the link below.

Ricin Facts from the CDC


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