Ricin: The Very Poor Man’s Toxic Terror Weapon

GMU Biodefense is pleased to announce the launch of its Backgrounder series. The Backgrounder, produced by GMU Biodefense faculty and affiliate research scientists, aims to concisely present fundamental knowledge on critical CBRN issues. Our first Backgrounder, produced by Dr. Alexander Garza, aims to put the true nature of the ricin threat into perspective, while also providing a general overview of US programs of detection and response.


Within the past three months at least five letters containing the toxin ricin have been mailed to local and Federal government officials and a non-profit gun control organization.  To date no one has become ill from the effects of the toxin in the letters and yet the media tends to conflate the threat posed by these primitive ricin preparations with highly lethal ricin weapons developed by state actors.  There is no debate that ricin is a formidable toxin.  To truly appreciate the risk to individuals and the public at large, however, the threat posed by “ricin letters” must be placed in context with attention to the amount of toxin, its purity, the means of delivery and how it stacks up to other chemical and biological threats.  With this sudden spike in the use of ricin as a weapon of terror, this is an opportune time to review its history, capacity as a terrorist weapon, its toxic properties and countermeasures developed by the United States.  This review will put the threat and risk of ricin into perspective as well as give a broad look at US programs towards combating ricin as a terrorist weapon.”

Read the full brief here.

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