Ricin-laced letters sent to Obama, U.S. Senator

By on April 17th, 2013

A ricin-laced letter addressed to President Barack Obama was intercepted Wednesday, after a letter packed with the same toxin was sent to Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., late Tuesday.

According to law enforcement officers quoted by the Associated Press, both letters contained a note stating, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” The letters were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.”

Officials say that they are pursuing leads to discover who sent the letters.

Anthony Dennis, environmental health director of the Alachua County Health Department, said ricin is a poison found in castor beans that can be released into the body if the beans are chewed and swallowed.

“It is a known bioterrorism threat because it’s easily obtained and can be refined into a powder, liquid or crystal,” Dennis said. “But it is certainly not contagious from one person to another. Someone would have to directly inhale or ingest it to be contaminated.”

Ricin is easy to produce in home labs, said Dr. Dawn Sollee, assistant director of the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center.

“Ricin is considered to be one of the most toxic substances out there,” she said. “It’s estimated that approximately one milligram per kilogram of body weight is considered lethal. If you think about it, that’s a very small amount, and even much smaller amounts are required to produce toxic effects by inhalation.”

Exposure to ricin results in coughing, chest tightness, nausea and vomiting, and there is no antidote, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sollee said she thinks the purpose of the ricin-laced letters was to scare people.

“It’s not necessarily that even someone has to be harmed by it,” she said. “It’s the fear.”

Laura Foreman wrote this story online.

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