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De Facto

Ricin and The Fear of Terrorism

I'm rather wondering if the media have 'Lost the plot' today.

The calming message is of course "If you think you have Ricin poisoning" - which has no known antidote - "contact NHS Direct or your GP for advice".

Advice on what? Funeral arrangements? And then, if you live in London SW19, it will take on average seven days to see your Doctor anyway, so a relatively pointless exercise for the unfortunate victim in such circumstances.

Worse still is that the media appear to be ducking the delivery mechanism issue for the poison. Yes Ricin can be inhaled or swallowed or smeared on a victim's door handle but the most worrying terrorist option also includes the water supply, which you may be happy to know, can resist the Ricin toxin but only if it is chlorinated to 10 ppm.

So, we are told on the BBC, "A gram of Ricin can theoretically kill 30,000 people" and it's only logical to think of the broader terrorist or Al Qaeda application and its delivery mechanism, other than as an unusual assassination weapon, as witnessed in the case of Georgi Markhov and the umbrella gun.

There's more than enough material on the Internet to help any amateur chemist distill Ricin from the husks of castor oil seeds and it's much safer to handle than the Smallpox virus or plague bacillus; the latter of course being available on mail order over the Web, as was demonstrated in the States two years ago.

My own guess is that the water supply is the simplest target of opportunity for Ricin, which is perhaps why nobody is asking the question on television but then, you'd need a truck load of Castor beans from your local supermarket, otherwise the result of too great a dilution of the chemical would involve a chronic laxative effect on the victims, not quite perhaps what the terrorists had in mind but very messy!


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