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Ricin - Photo Credit: iStock- 512992329 | Copyright: Tihis
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Hazard Recognition

The discovery of ricin on a mail-opening machine closed three Senate office buildings in early February, 2004. Although no illnesses or deaths resulted, using ricin as a bioterrorist weapon in the workplace remains a serious threat. The following references aid in recognizing disease characteristics and hazards associated with ricin.

Ricin as a Weapon

Ricin may have significance as a biological weapon since it is easy to produce and is stable. In addition to being found on the U.S. Capital, the ricin toxin has also been used or suspected during the following instances:

  • Ricin was considered for weaponization by the United States during its offensive Biological Warfare Program. Such a weapon was tested but apparently never used in battle.
  • Ricin was used in the highly publicized assassination of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov in 1978. An attacker used an umbrella rigged with a special tip to inject a ricin pellet under Markov's skin.
  • Some reports have indicated that ricin may have been used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, and that quantities of ricin were found in Al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan.
  • Two tax protestors were convicted in 1995 under the Anti-Terrorism Act for possessing ricin as a biological weapon.
  • A retired electrician was arrested in 1995 under the Anti-Terrorism Act for possessing castor beans. Two years before, a large quantity of ricin toxin, weapons, ammunition, and gold were found in his car by Canadian customs officials as he crossed the border from Alaska to Canada.
  • In October, 2003, an envelope with a threatening note and a sealed container with ricin was discovered at a mail processing and distribution facility in Greenville, South Carolina. No ricin-associated illnesses were identified as a result of the incident.
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