Ricin: Deadly, but Crude Weapon

By  , NBC News
Apr 19, 2013

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Ricin Deadly but Crude Weapon

Ever since a letter that was sent to President Barack Obama was tested positive for ricin, the crude weapon has been doing the rounds and been subjected to a lot of hot debate. Is ricin a deadly poison? Could it have killed Obama had he sniffed it? What does it do?

Ricin is deadly, yes, and what is even more appalling is that it can be made with the tip of one’s tongue. Ricin is made out of castor beans i.e. the natural byproduct of castor oil. When the castor beans are purified with the help of sophisticated methods, it can be a lethal agent and also, hard to trace. This is best known as a poison that was used to kill Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov in London in the year 1978 by an agent who used an umbrella tipped with an injector to pole him.

The recipes to make ricin abound the internet, today.  Dr. Eric Toner of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says- “It’s been used many times mostly by domestic terrorists and lone wolves,” Toner said. “It is easy to make some ricin. You get some castor beans, make it in your kitchen, you can produce a batch of stuff that has some ricin in it. It is not very pure. It is not very potent. As near as we can tell it has never actually made anyone sick.”

“Within a few hours of inhaling significant amounts of ricin, the likely symptoms would be respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may follow as well as fluid building up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This would make breathing even more difficult, and the skin might turn blue,” the CDC says.

“If authorities suspect that people have inhaled ricin, a potential clue would be that a large number of people who had been close to each other rapidly developed fever, cough, and excess fluid in their lungs. These symptoms would likely be followed by severe breathing problems and possibly death.”


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