What is that white powder in the envelope?

While I am on this tangent of the events of April 2013, I decided I would do another blog post this day.

April 17, 2013 – two days after the Boston Marathon disaster another episode of ricin was brought to our attention.  Just when I thought that we had seen the last of the deadly white powder that mysteriously shows up in envelopes, it rears its ugly head. 

I can remember the last time ricin was sent in an envelope and because we receive a lot of white envelopes at my work, often without return addresses our mail room took extra caution in sorting, opening and delivering the mail.

So what why does the mere mention of ricin, cause panic and law enforcement to spring into action with the hazardous materials team at their heels.  Because if “inhaled, injected or ingested, less than a pinpoint of ricin can kill a person within 36 to 48 hours due to the failure of the respiratory and circulatory systems”.   It only takes one molecule of ricin to kill a cell it enters. A drop of it can kill although death may take several days. There is no known treatment.  However, ingestion of ricin is not always fatal and children are at more risk than adults.  

The name ricin sounds harmless enough but take a look at the ugly substance a natural, highly toxic compound that is one of the byproducts of processing castor beans.
Ingesting ricin causes nausea, vomiting and internal bleeding of the stomach and intestines, followed by the failure of the liver, spleen and kidneys, and finally death by collapse of the circulatory system. If injected, ricin causes the immediate death of the muscles and lymph nodes near the site of the injection.

However, the good news is, if there is any, that if a castor bean seed is swallowed whole without damage to the seed coat, it will probably pass harmlessly through the system. But if the coat is chewed or broken, then swallowed, the poison will enter the body.

While medical experts claim that ricin is not the dangerous threat nor as powerful a killer as anthrax  it is little comfort that someone out there is sending this deadly white powder to our government officials and unbeknownst to the average citizen we could be next.

We need to be mindful that ricin has the potential of becoming a serious health crisis if we are not diligent and observant and fail to report any suspicous substance to the authorities.

CNN Health http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/16/health/what-is-ricin


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