Ricin Letters: New Arrest and Test Results

ricin letters

US Navy photo depicting field tests on an unknown white powder substance

An arrest was made in Mississippi early Saturday in the ricin letters case. Everett Dutschke was investigated as having connections to Paul Kevin Curtis, who was released from custody earlier this week. On Saturday the arrest was made on charges of using a biological agent as a weapon.  MSN News sums up the story on Sunday:

…FBI agents arrested J. Everett Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo, without incident at 1 a.m. Saturday morning.

The first man arrested, Paul Kevin Curtis, also of Tupelo, appears to have been framed by Dutschke, the [New York] Times reported. The two men apparently had an ongoing feud over numerous matters….

Saturday’s arrest is the latest twist in a strange tale that first unfolded during the week of the Boston Marathon bombings, when the deadly toxin ricin was discovered in letters sent to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, (R-Miss.) and Judge Sadie Holland, of Lee County Justice Court in Mississippi.

The same article notes the effects of the drug ricin. Ricin is a toxin which is extracted from castor beans:

“If castor beans are eaten [about 20 for an adult] death can occur in six to eight days,” [Victoria Richards, a toxicologist and assistant professor of medical sciences at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut] said. “When concentrated, ricin powder may be lethal in a much shorter timeframe. There is a process called oral inhalation, in which powders or aerosolized agents [depending on the particle size] can be deposited in the mouth and eventually swallowed.”

If swallowed, “ricin will cause nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and dehydration,” Richards added. “Multiple organ damage also occurs, and eventually death.”

Reuters reports on the testing that was done on the ricin letters, which were sent to President Obama, Senator Wicker, and Judge Holland. The initial tests done in the field by the FBI tested positive for ricin. However, the basic field tests do not tell investigators anything about the potency of the toxin. Further tests are required for that. The Reuters report says that the toxin in the letters appeared to be in a very crude form:

The FBI said on Thursday that more tests may be necessary to determine the potency of a granular material identified as ricin contained in the letters.
An FBI agent testified in court in Mississippi that the ricin found in the letters was in a crude form and looked like castor beans ground up in a blender, according to media accounts. Experts have said ricin in that form would have a low potency.
Castor bean plants are grown as ornamental shrubs in the Southern United States, but there is no domestic castor oil production and it is mostly imported from India and China.
Milton Leitenberg, senior research scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at the University of Maryland, said the vast majority of ricin cases since the 1960s had involved crude ricin preparations made from recipes published in manuals and on the Internet.
“You could ingest this crude stuff, swallow a couple of tablespoons and you’d probably vomit, but not much more,” Leitenberg said in a telephone interview.
A material like that described in the ricin court hearing would pose little danger, Leitenberg said.

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Written by Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. She has an impressive portfolio as her works have been previously featured in several health journals and local newspapers in the Sunshine State. She takes health reporting to a new level with factual relation to what readers want and need to know . Having spent the last decade working all over the Internet as a freelancer writer, she is ecstatic that she has the opportunity to work with the Newhealthalert team to bring the best news, commentary, and information to the public on a global level.

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