DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE
Ricin - Poison at the Capital?Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Feb. 3, 2004 -- A suspicious substance was found in the mail room of the Senate office of the majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist, yesterday. Tests reportedly indicated the presence of the poison ricin.
Feb. 4, 2004 -- Tests confirmed that the substance is ricin.
Ricin from castor mash
Worldwide a million tons of castor beans are processed annually in the production of castor oil. The waste mash from this process is 5% ricin by weight.
Ricin can be in the form of a powder, mist, pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid. Ricin is quite stable and is not affected much by extreme conditions such as very hot or very cold temperatures.
The signs and symptoms Ricin is extremely toxic by several routes of exposure. When inhaled as a small particle aerosol, this toxin can produce pathologic changes within 8 hours and severe respiratory symptoms followed by acute respiratory failure within 36-72 hours.
The signs and symptoms of ricin inhalation include:
There is no vaccine or prophylactic antitoxin. Use of a protective mask is currently the best protection against inhalation. Ricin is not volatile. Decontamination should be done with soap and water. Hypochlorite solutions also can inactivate ricin.
Ricin used as a poison
In 1994 and 1995, four men from a tax-protest group known as the "Minnesota Patriots Council," were convicted of possessing ricin and conspiring to use it (by mixing it with the solvent DMSO) to murder law enforcement officials.
In 1995, a Kansas City oncologist, Deborah Green, attempted to murder her husband by contaminating his food with ricin. In 1997, a Wisconsin resident, Thomas Leahy, was arrested and charged with possession with intent to use ricin as a weapon.
Ricin as a bioterrorist weapon
Last Editorial Review: 2/4/2004