What is Ricin?

What is Ricin?

The FBI confirms two letters sent to President Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), postmarked from Memphis, contained a powder that tested positive for the deadly poison ricin.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The FBI confirms two letters sent to President Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), postmarked from Memphis, contained a powder that tested positive for the deadly poison ricin.

Agents say the letters are related and dated April 8; both letters were detected before they got to their intended targets.

So what exactly is ricin? It's been in movies and TV shows, and there have been small brushes with it in Shelby County - but the Emergency Management Agency director says nothing to this magnitude.

"Ricin is very lethal; it's extremely lethal," stated Bob Nations, Director of the Shelby Co. EMA.

It comes from castor beans, and it's all natural until it's manipulated.

Dr. Abby Parrill is a chemist at the University of Memphis, who specializes in protiens.

"It has a b-chain, which is what makes it toxic because it allows it to get into cells," she explained. "If it's purified to powder form so it can become airborne, that's when it becomes dangerous."

Dr. Parrill says the powder is so dangerous, most people can't even create it without hurting themselves.

"Ricin is, by inhalation, incredibly toxic by order of a few tenths of micrograms per kilogram of body weight."

To break that down, if it were aspirin, all it takes is 1/228th of a pill to kill.

Nations says there are plans federally and locally to scan for these dangerous substances, but that doesn't mean they can't slip through.

"Regardless of your safety measures, you always have some nuance and something gets through as time moves along," he said.

Biological and chemical monitoring equipment was installed in the post office after 9-11, however sources tell ABC 24 News that the equipment was set to detect anthrax, not ricin, on the date the poisoned letters were processed.

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