You've probably heard that the deadly toxin Ricin was found this week in the Senate Office mailroom in Washington. No one was hurt and the scare is over. So what is that stuff anyway?
Ricin is made from the waste that's created when castor beans are mashed into castor oil. It can be produced in different forms, to be swallowed, inhaled or injected.
Ricin kills by shutting down the body's vital organs. Symptoms vary depending on the type of exposure, and can include everything from fever, coughing, stomach distress, lung damage or seizures. It can kill in less than three days, that's the scary part. But experts say you don't have to be afraid that Ricin could be used as a weapon of mass destruction because it is not contagious. It's just a type of poison that would more likely be used to target an individual not large groups.
In 1978, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, died after he was attacked by a man with an umbrella. The umbrella had been rigged to inject a poison Ricin pellet under his skin. Some reports have indicated that Ricin may have been used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980's and that quantities of Ricin were found in Al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan. In the United States there have been several cases of Ricin's being manufactured and intended for acts of domestic terrorism. From 1991 to 1997 there were three such cases.