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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ricin: Technical Background and Potential Role in Terrorism

Dana A. Shea
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Frank Gottron
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

On December 20, 2010, CBS News reported that the Department of Homeland Security had uncovered a credible threat of attacks using poisons, such as ricin, in salad bars and buffets. Ricin, a deadly toxin derived from castor beans, has been identified as a potential bioweapon. Ricin is extremely toxic by ingestion, inhalation, and injection. No treatment or prophylaxis currently exists, though research into new therapies and vaccines against ricin exposure continues. Additionally, research to improve ricin detection is ongoing. Although ricin’s potential use as a military weapon was investigated, its predominant use has been in small quantities against specific individuals. Most experts believe that ricin would be difficult to use as a weapon of mass destruction, but do not discount its potential as a weapon of terror. Ricin is on the Select Agent list, and its possession, transfer, or use is regulated under domestic and international law. This report will not be updated.

Date of Report: December 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: RS21383
Price: $19.95

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