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In Europe, if you sit down a brown paper bag and run away, everyone around will run as well, fearing a bomb. If you do that in the US people will run to the bag, hoping to find money or something else good that was left behind. We need to wake up and pay attention to our surroundings.
Originally posted by Chuck Stevenson
I would estimate that the number of bean carrying pods were in the low thousands (4 beans per pod). A poison such as Ricin could be easily distributed in powder form through any large crowd, inhaled it is always fatal within 24 hours. Consumed via food it kills within 36 hours. All it takes is the amount that fits on the head of a standard sewing pin (50 micro grams).
To put ricin used as weapon into perspective, it is worth noting that as a biological weapon or chemical weapon, ricin may be considered as not very powerful, if only in comparison with other poisons such as botulinum or anthrax. Hence, a military willing to use biological weapons and having advanced resources would rather use either of the latter than ricin. That is, though easy to produce, it is not as practical nor likely to cause as high casualities as other agents. Ricin degrades (ie, the protein changes structure and becomes less dangerous) much more readily than, for example, anthrax spores. (Jan van Aken, an expert on biological weapons explained in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel that he judges it rather reassuring that Al Qaeda experimented with ricin as it suggests their inability to produce botulin or anthrax.)
Pure ricin could be dispersed through the air, however it would tend to be oxidized and rendered harmless by ozone, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants in a matter of minutes. Since it acts as an enzyme, catalyzing destruction of ribosomes, even a single oxidation is likely to render the ricin molecule harmless. Presumably it could be sealed inside some sort of dust particle that would dissolve in water, but this would be difficult.
The major reason it is dangerous is that there is no specific antidote, and that it is very easy to obtain (the castor bean plant is a common ornamental, and can be grown at home without any special care). Ricin is actually several orders of magnitude less toxic than botulinum or tetanus toxins, but those are more difficult to obtain.