ECBC to study how to improve detection and decontamination of ricin

Scientists with the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center are looking into more effective decontamination methods for ricin, a highly toxic protein, the ECBC said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reached out to Jason Edmonds, the branch chief for aerosol sciences at ECBC's Research & Technology Directorate, to study ways to fully decontaminate ricin from a surface and determine if residual ricin remains on a surface after decontamination. The request for research comes after an envelope laced with ricin and intended for President Barack Obama was intercepted by law enforcement officials in April.

"Right now the biggest problem the CDC faces is determining if an exposed surface still has trace amounts of ricin on it - in the case of the U.S. Postal Service, it would be from the point it was put in the mailbox to the point it was identified in the sorting facility," Edmonds said. "It's important to remember that when it comes to deadly toxins like ricin, you cannot just clean up 99 percent of the surface, it must be decontaminated 100 percent in order to guarantee that someone will not be affected."

Edmonds is one of the only scientists to be published on the subject of evaluating technologies for sampling ricin off of different surfaces. In his previous study, Edmonds demonstrated the need for accurate dissemination techniques to evaluate sampling technologies in real world environments.

In the current study, Edmonds and his team will test ricin in specialized chambers in buildings approved for handling hazardous material at ECBC. The team will attempt to produce a methodology to evenly distributing the ricin powder on a variety of surfaces and apply a decontamination technique.

"This will be an exclusive partnership between ECBC and the CDC," Edmonds said. "We're excited for the opportunity to work with them again and to be one of the first to study ricin in this way. The potential outcome of this study could lead to some incredible solutions to protect our nation from toxin attacks."