Wednesday, April 17, 2013

CTI is getting a lot of requests for information on the ricin biological attack problem

CTI is getting a lot of requests for information on the ricin biological attack problem. The following is a short paper not tailored to any specific airport, port, or train station on possible procedures for countering or mitigating the threat.

The scare from the London find is real, but should be put in perspective. Ricin is a by-product of castor beans. Castor Oil, which has a portion of the ricin byproduct in it most of the time, is used for everything from soap to an industrial lubricant for machines. Trace amounts of ricin can be found in various products, including leather, which is often conditioned with a castor oil-based process, to soap. South Africa does produce castor beans and process them into different byproducts. In fact a recent study at the University of Virginia shows that the South African castor bean has one of the highest levels of ricin in it. Therefore, if any of the people arrested in London worked near or with a castor bean byproduct, there is a good chance they would have trace amounts of ricin on or around them.

It should be noted that a strain of castor bean from Pakistan has been found to have the highest level of ricin, with strains of beans from Afghanistan, Iran, India, and South Africa following behind. It also should be noted that in the last three years the US has increased its own castor bean production while slowing down imports of castor beans from other countries. This slowing of US castor bean imports is causing financial hardships in some of these developing countries.

The greatest concentrations of ricin are generally found in the meal or hulls left over from the making of castor oil, which means that it can be developed from the leftovers of a castor oil plant. If the ricin is of a high enough content, one bean chewed as it is eaten can kill a person. This is also true of the Rosary Pea, which has a protein toxin called abrin and a glycoside called abric acid. The symptoms are close to ricin, but the bean from the plant is even more toxic than ricin. This plant grows naturally in tropical climates and well established in certain areas of southern Florida.

A medical protocol for ricin is attached.

If a possible victim is discovered in a transportation facility it should be determined if the victim is an arriving passenger or departing passenger. Regardless, since the symptomatic period is usually at minimum one hour to as many as 15 days the toxin is most likely from another location. However, a procedure could be established to determine where the person came from and notify the authorities in that area to look out for other possible victims. If the possible victim is an originating passenger from the location in question, notifications should be made to local medical facilities to look out for other possible victims.

If notified from another source that the facility has been identified as a possible source of the toxin, HAZMAT teams along with federal and local law enforcement would be dispatched to determine if the facility has been attacked.

Ricin can be be used to attack in a number of different ways. One is through contact with the toxin. A number of people in the US have been convicted for planning to put ricin mixed with a hand cream to enhance the toxins entry to the bloodstream on hand rails and doorknobs in public facilities. Ricin has also been injected into victims through small pellets fired from devices like altered umbrellas. In this case, the victim felt the injection but did not realize what it was until it was too late. Ricin can also be dispersed as an aerosol to mix with the air in the facility. Another method is to add it to a food or beverage for consumption. Determining what any victims had in common, such as entry into a particular facility or a food establishment they all had visited would be the most effective method of discovering the source.

Security awareness training is probably the only preventative measure to deal with this type of threat since the methods of detection are very site or area-specific and costly. Anyone behaving in a suspicious manner such as hanging around a food vendor, or possibly wearing gloves or a mask as they walk around a facility should be reported to authorities immediately.

Since the delivery of the toxin is very dangerous to the attacker, gloves, masks, or other items to limit the attackers exposure to the toxin are normally necessary. Unlike with other toxins, normally caregivers are not a significant risk unless there is an airborne attack via an aerosol delivery system. It’s important to remember that if the victim were showing signs of symptoms of the toxin, it would be very unlikely that the attack occurred at your facility.

If any additional information is required, please call CTI at 1-800-783-4284 or email us at

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