A Georgetown student was arrested in Washington Friday, after showing his resident advisor a bag of homemade ricin he’d made in his dorm room. The advisor contacted police, and Daniel Harry Milzman, 19, of Bethesda, Md., was taken into custody, after testing confirmed the substance was ricin, according to a court document.
Milzman claims to have learned how to produce the lethal substance using his iPhone, and went and purchased the ingredients at retail stores.
Ricin is a highly toxic, naturally occurring lectin (a carbohydrate-binding protein) produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant Ricinus communis. A dose the size of a few grains of sand can kill an adult, and acts as a toxin by inhibiting protein synthesis. Ricin causes severe diarrhea, and victims can die of circulatory shock. Symptoms typically don’t present themselves for a few hours to a full day after exposure, and most victims die within 3-5 days. Survivors typically experience long-term organ damage.
Most acute poisoning cases due to overdose are attributed to the ingestion of whole castor oil beans. Just 5-20 beans can be fatal to an adult, though those who survive experience nausea, diarrhea, tachycardia, hypotension and seizures persisting for up to a week.
The U.S. military first examined weaponizing ricin during World War I, though the conflict ended before the substance could be deployed as a biological agent. During World War II, the military considered coating bullets with the substance, but mass production of ricin proved to be uneconomical.
Ricin is listed as a schedule 1 controlled substance under both the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, and has been viewed as a domestic threat, as castor beans are easy to come by.
Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the FBI’s Washington Field Office told The Washington Post, “Based on our investigation, we do not believe there is any connection to terrorism.There is no immediate threat to members of the Georgetown community.”
Georgetown University issued a press release concerning the incident stating, “Anyone exposed to ricin would have presented with severe symptoms within 24 hours. This window has passed and there are no reports consistent with ricin exposure.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons.