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Biological Health Hazard – Ricin Poisoning


Published Date: 2016-07-10 22:15:12
Subject: PRO/EDR> Ricin – USA: (CO) suicide
Archive Number: 20160710.4336094

Date: Friday, 8 Jul 2016
Source: Daily Camera [edited]

An 18-year-old Boulder man died Wednesday [6 Jul 2016] night after police say he intentionally ingested the deadly poison ricin, which he had manufactured in his home. Boulder County Coroner Emma Hall identified the man as Ryan Levine and said that the exact cause and manner of his death are still being investigated. Levine died at the University of Colorado Hospital, according to the coroner’s office.

Boulder police Detective Sgt. Tom Dowd said that the Boulder Fire Department and Boulder County Public Health helped police with their investigation at Levine’s house in the 900 block of Poplar Avenue and determined that the incident does not pose a threat to the public. “We don’t know why he did it,” Dowd said. “We are investigating the death. But we don’t know why he did what he did.”

Boulder County Public Health Spokeswoman Chana Goussetis said her department worked with police to ensure the home was properly cleaned up and tested. “We were just there to oversee it,” Goussetis said. “We make sure they are using the proper equipment and doing the testing and the testing gets to the lab. We’re just making sure the environment is safe.”

Levine is believed to have purposely ingested the ricin and died later that night, according to a news release. Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans and is part of the waste material when the beans are processed into castor oil. It can be refined for use as a weapon, and it only takes a minute amount — about the size of a few grains of salt — to kill someone, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The poison was prominently featured on the television series “Breaking Bad” when lead character Walter White made a batch of it early in the show. He uses it to kill an enemy on the series finale. Dowd said that in his 17 years with Boulder police, he cannot recall any incident involving ricin.

[Byline: John Bear]

Communicated by:

[This article does not tell us how the individual was exposed to the ricin. The article says an investigation is ongoing, although they believe the victim intentionally ingested the ricin. The article indicates he manufactured the ricin in his home, so it is likely a powder. However, ingestion vs. inhalation may not be able to be determined until the investigation is completed. At this point, the assumption is not verified.

“Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans. It is a potent protein derived from the beans of the castor plant (_Ricinus communis_). Castor beans are used in the production of castor oil, a brake and hydraulic fluid constituent. The aqueous phase of the process, termed the “waste mash,” is 5-10 percent ricin. Ricin works by getting inside the cells of a person’s body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need, hence, it is often called a toxalbumin. Without the proteins, cells die. Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur.

Castor oil does not contain ricin.

Ricin can be in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid. It is a stable substance under normal conditions, but can be inactivated by heat above 80 C [176 F].

Ricin has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells.

Effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether ricin was inhaled, ingested, or injected. The major symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on the route of exposure and the dose received, though many organs may be affected in severe cases. Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning by inhalation may occur within 8 hours of exposure. Following ingestion of ricin, initial symptoms typically occur in less than 6 hours.

Inhalation: within a few hours of inhaling significant amounts of ricin, the likely symptoms would be respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may follow as well as fluid building up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This would make breathing even more difficult, and the skin might turn blue. Excess fluid in the lungs would be diagnosed by X-ray or by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Finally, low blood pressure and respiratory failure may occur, leading to death. In cases of known exposure to ricin, people having respiratory symptoms that started within 12 hours of inhaling ricin should seek medical care.

Ingestion: if someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would develop vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. Severe dehydration may be the result, followed by low blood pressure. Other signs or symptoms may include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, the person’s liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and the person could die. A chronic low level could make it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.

Skin and eye exposure: ricin is unlikely to be absorbed through normal skin. Contact with ricin powders or products may cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes.

Death from ricin poisoning could take place within 36 to 72 hours of exposure, depending on the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or injection) and the dose received.

In suspected situations where ricin may have been disseminated, preliminary environmental testing by public health or law enforcement authorities may detect ricin in powders or materials released into the immediate environment. Persons occupying such areas may initially be observed for signs of ricin poisoning. No widely available, reliable medical test exists to confirm that a person has been exposed to ricin.

Because no antidote exists for ricin, the most important factor is avoiding ricin exposure in the 1st place. If exposure cannot be avoided, the most important factor is then getting the ricin off or out of the body as quickly as possible. Symptomatic ricin poisoning is treated by giving victims supportive medical care to minimize the effects of the poisoning. The types of supportive medical care would depend on several factors, such as the route by which victims were poisoned (that is, whether poisoning was by inhalation, ingestion, or skin or eye exposure). Care could include such measures as helping victims breathe, giving them intravenous fluids (fluids given through a needle inserted into a vein), giving them medications to treat conditions such as seizures and low blood pressure, flushing their stomachs with activated charcoal (if the ricin has been very recently ingested), or washing out their eyes with water if their eyes are irritated.”

Portions of this comment were extracted from and – Mod.TG

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:]

See Also

Ricin – USA (03): (NY) death pills 20150830.3612366
Ricin – USA (02): (IA, PA): follow-up 20150705.3487557
Ricin – USA: (WI) follow-up, 2014 20150704.3484281

Ricin – USA (08): (Washington DC,WI) 20141112.2947581
Ricin – USA (07): (OH) 20141001.2819883
Ricin – USA (06): (Washington DC, PA) powder 20140918.2782743
Ricin – USA (05): (NY) weapons plot 20140601.2513058
Ricin – USA (04): (OK) murder plot 20140427.2433926
Ricin – USA (03): (Washington DC, PA) powder 20140328.2363124
Ricin – USA (02): (Washington DC, PA) powder 20140322.2348185
Ricin – USA: (Washington DC) powder 20140320.2343555

Ricin – USA (05): letters 20130616.1776657
Ricin – USA (04): letters 20130531.1747210
Ricin – USA (03) (WA) letters 20130518.1720928
Ricin – USA (02): (Washington, DC) letters 20130420.1658917
Ricin – USA: (Washington, DC) letters 20130417.1652964

Ricin – International BT alert 20110816.2487

Ricin – UK: (England) suspect conviction 20100310.0763

Ricin, poisoning – USA: (WA) susp 20090612.2168

Ricin – USA (05): (NV), arrest 20080417.1375
Ricin – USA (04): (NV), conf. 20080305.0912
Ricin – USA (03): (NV), susp. 20080303.0872
Ricin – USA (NV) (02): susp. 20080301.0839
Ricin, death – USA (NV): susp. corr. 20080229.0825
Ricin, death – USA (NV): susp. 20080229.0824

Ricin, baby food – USA (CA) 20040730.2079
Ricin, home-made – USA (WA) 20040413.1001


A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

Category A – Bioterrorism Agents

Category A pathogens are those organisms/biological agents that pose the highest risk to national security and public health because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person; result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact; might cause public panic and social disruption, and require special action for public health preparedness. — National Institutes of Health


Ricin is a  high-priority agent and poses a high risk to national security, it can be easily transmitted and disseminated, result in high mortality, has potential major public health impact, may cause public panic, or require special action for public health preparedness.

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