On February 2, 2004, the deadly toxin ricin was detected in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Ricin, derived from castor beans, has been identified as a potential bioweapon. Ricin is extremely toxic by ingestion, inhalation and injection, causing organ damage that can lead to death. While research continues on new therapies and vaccines against ricin exposure, no approved treatments or prophylaxis for human use currently exist. Research to develop sensitive, portable detectors capable of detecting the release of ricin is ongoing. Although ricin was investigated as a potential military weapon, it has predominantly been used in small quantities against specific individuals. Most experts believe that ricin would be difficult to use as a weapon of mass destruction, but do not discount its potential as a weapon of terror. Ricin is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Select Agent list, and its possession, transfer, or use, is regulated under domestic and international law. This report will be updated as events warrant.
On February 2, 2004, the deadly toxin ricin was detected in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. As of this writing, early indications suggest that the toxin may have been mailed to Senator Frist's offices. All mail sent to government offices on Capitol Hill is sterilized by irradiation. However, this procedure was designed to kill bacteria, such as anthrax, not to inactivate preformed toxins such as ricin. Ricin is often mentioned as a potential bioterror weapon. This report describes what ricin is, how it is made, its effects, a brief history of its use, its potential for use as a bioterror weapon, and how it is currently regulated.
What Is Ricin?
Ricin is a potent plant toxin found in the seeds of the castor plant (Ricinus communis). It works by blocking cell protein synthesis, which results in cell death. If enough cells die, lesions appear in the exposed tissues which can lead to organ failure and death of the victim. (1)
How Is Ricin Obtained?
Ricin can be isolated from castor beans by several well known processes. During the industrial production of castor oil, bean mash with approximately 5 percent ricin content is produced. Recipes for extracting the ricin from this mash are widely available for purchase on the Internet and from …