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Ricin: Frequently Asked Questions

► Download a PDF version of this Ricin Fact Sheet.

What is ricin?
  • Ricin is a poison made from waste generated during extraction of castor oil from castor beans.
  • Ricin can take the form of a powder, mist or pellet. It can also be dissolved in water.
Where is ricin found and how is it used?
  • The castor bean plant is grown in many parts of the world, mostly in tropical climates. Castor beans from the plant are processed to make castor oil, which is used in many industries.
  • Ricin has some medical uses. For example, it is used in bone marrow transplants and cancer treatment to kill cancer cells.
  • Ricin has the potential for use as a weapon. There have been reported attempts to expose people by placing it in mail.
  • The U.S. government strictly regulates the possession, use and transport of ricin.
How could I be exposed to ricin?
  • It is very unlikely that anyone would be exposed to ricin by accident.
  • If ricin were used maliciously, people could be exposed by inhaling an airborne mist or powder, ingesting contaminated food or water or having ricin injected into the body.
  • Although any exposure to ricin could cause serious harm, injection or inhalation would be more dangerous than swallowing.
What are the healthy effects of ricin exposure?
  • The effects of ricin poisoning depend on how it enters the body.
    • Ricin is poorly absorbed through the skin, though it can irritate the skin and eyes. Skin and eye contact is not likely to cause serious harm.
    • Inhaling ricin can interfere with breathing and cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
    • Ricin injection can destroy muscles and damage organs near the injection site, eventually leading to death.
    • When swallowed, ricin can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If a large quantity of ricin toxin is swallowed, it can cause severe illness or death.
  • Children, the elderly and people with existing health problems are especially vulnerable to ricin and other toxic chemicals.
What should I do if I think I have been exposed?
  • If the ricin was released outdoors, leave the area.
  • If the ricin was released indoors, get out of the building.
  • Get the ricin off your body as quickly as possible. possible.
  • Carefully remove contaminated clothing. Place clothes in a double plastic bag. Disposal sites will be set up for these bags.
  • Dial 911. Explain what happened and get medical help right away. You can also contact the New York City Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to ricin?
  • There is no widely available, reliable medical test to confirm whether a person has been exposed
    to ricin.
Is there medical treatment for ricin exposure?
  • The most important thing to do is to get fresh air, wash your body and flush your eyes with water.
  • If ricin exposure causes illness, it would be treated in a hospital setting.
How would ricin affect pets?
  • Pets exposed to ricin would suffer many of the same effects as people.
  • If your pet is exposed to ricin, put on gloves and protective clothing and wash your pet with soap and water. After washing your pet, put your gloves and all exposed clothing in a double plastic bag. Disposal sites will be set up for these bags.
  • Contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.
How can I prepare for a chemical emergency?
  • Advance preparation is the key to staying safe.
  • Tools that can help in any emergency include a household disaster plan, an emergency supply kit and a bag of supplies you can grab on the go (a "go-bag").
  • Visit the Ready New York website for more information about preparing for an emergency:
What if there is a chemical emergency in New York City?
  • New York City agencies have emergency response plans to protect residents, workers and visitors.
  • During any emergency, health officials will provide instructions through TV and radio news on how best to protect yourself and your loved ones.
What if fears about terrorism are having a serious impact on my family and work life?
  • It is normal to feel afraid or anxious about terrorism. But if fear stops you from doing things you would normally do, it may be helpful to speak with a professional counselor.
  • Your health provider can make a referral, or you can get help by calling 311 and asking for LIFENET
    make a referral, or you can call one of the following help lines:

    Call LIFENET or call 311 and ask for "LIFENET"
    English LifeNet:(800) 543-3638(800) LIFENET
    Spanish LifeNet:(877) 298-3373(877) AYUDESE
    Chinese LifeNet:(877) 990-8585 
    Hearing Impaired:1-212-982-5284  
Where can I get more information?

Last Updated: May 29, 2013