Ricin: A deadly poison
Ricin apparently played a key role in Oklahoma City resident Preston Rhoads’ plans to poison his pregnant girlfriend and her unborn child, according to court documents.
Wearing gas masks and hazmat suits, Oklahoma City police and FBI agents searched Rhoads’ home in late April. The authorities entered the home and took samples of a powdery substance, which later tested positive for ricin.
A poison that occurs naturally in castor beans, ricin is part of the waste material produced when the beans are processed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be made as a powder, mist or pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.
Ricin, which is extremely toxic, works by invading a person’s cells and blocking them from making the proteins they need. Starved of proteins, the cells die. The process eventually harms the entire body and may result in death.
Several factors determine whether a person will become ill after being exposed to ricin, according to the CDC. Those factors include the amount of ricin, the length of the exposure, the method — inhalation, ingestion or injection — and the purity of the ricin.
Depending on the method of exposure, as little as 500 micrograms of ricin — which would fit on the head of a pin — could kill an adult, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.