Letter With Ricin Poison Intercepted: A Potential Link to al-Qaeda?

This just in, CNN and CNBC television are reporting that a “tainted letter” containing the deadly poison ricin was intercepted en route to Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker.  The letter, which did not reach Sen. Wicker, has reportedly been intercepted in an off-site processing facility, where the initial test was issued.

NPR has updated this story, indicating that “no one in the Capitol complex is in danger,” and it is unknown as to whether or not this has any connection with yesterday’s tragic bombing at the 117th Boston Marathon.

According to the CDC, ricin is “a poison found naturally in castor beans,” and “it can be in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.” Interestingly, the Center notes in its Fact Sheet that “the U.S. military experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent” as early as the 1940s, and “in some reports ricin has possibly been used as a warfare agent in the 1980s in Iraq and more recently by terrorist organizations.”

The poison prevents protein formulation in the body.

We’ll repeat: it is unknown if this event is in any way linked to the Boston Marathon bombings, but this is a developing story.

Taking a longer look at the CDC’s analysis, it’s worth exploring how ricin works, and the devastating effects it could have on any of those exposed to the substance. Here are the signs and symptoms:

—————-(start CDC Fact Sheet)—————–

“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 as early as 4- 8 hours and as  late as 24 hours after exposure. Following ingestion of ricin, initial symptoms typically occur in less than 10 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 should seek medical care.

Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would likely 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 seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, the person’s liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and the person could die.

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. However, if you touch ricin that is on your skin and then eat food with your hands or put your hands in your mouth, you may ingest some.

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.”

—————-(end CDC Fact Sheet)—————–

Here’s something no one has picked up on yet:

Fox News reported in August 2011 that Al Qaeda was “trying to harness deadly toxin ricin for bombs,” which was an extension of a New York Times piece that same month. In that original story, it was reported that “American counterterrorism officials are increasingly concerned that the most dangerous regional arm of Al Qaeda is trying to produce the lethal poison ricin, to be packed around small explosives for attacks against the United States.

Here’s the full video (via screen capture, JoeyB613, YouTube):

While this does in no way determine who was responsible for what happened in Boston yesterday, it is an important link to be made, and we will be sure to let you know of any updates as they become clear.

For more information about ricin poison, see the CDC’s website here.