Edgewood Chemical Biological Center

Nov 15, 2013

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland – ­Preventing the transport of materials laced with ricin is a significant priority for the national defence community, and scientists at the U.S. Army’s principal R&D center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations – the Edgewood Chemical ­Biological Center (ECBC) – are working to improve methods of detecting and decon­taminating the deadly substance known as Ricin.

There is currently no antidote for inhaling ricin, which is a naturally occurring, highly toxic protein derived from the seeds of the castor oil plant. Inhaling a dose the size of a few grains of salt can be lethal for an average sized adult.

The Centers for Disease Control reached out to Dr. Jason Edmonds, Branch Chief for Aerosol Sciences at ECBC’s Research & Technology Directorate, to identify methodologies for fully decontaminating ricin from a surface and to determine whether there is residual ricin on a surface after it’s been decontaminated.  “Right now the biggest problem the CDC faces is determining if an exposed surface still has trace amounts of ricin on it – such as from the point it was put in a mailbox to the point it is identified in the sorting facility,” said Edmonds.

For such deadly toxins, nothing less than 100% will ensure safety, and so the CDC also wants to explore techniques for complete decontamination of an exposed surface area.

Edmonds is one of the only people to be published on the subject of evaluating technologies for sampling of ricin off of different surfaces. His paper, entitled “Surface Sampling of a Dry Aerosol Deposited Ricin”, examines swab materials commonly used to sample biological threat agents from ­surfaces. The paper examines the need for accurate dissemination techniques to properly evaluate sampling technologies in an environment mimicking the “real world” environment where the toxin may be found.

The team will work with ricin rather than a simulant. “Due to the nature of its toxicity, most studies are conducted using a ricin-like protein, but the problem is that they are not exactly the same. It doesn’t act like ricin, doesn’t look like ricin, but since the simulant is a biological protein, people try to make that connection.”

Specialized chambers in ECBC buildings are approved for handling hazardous material to safely assess chemical and biological materials, including ricin. Here the team will finalize the preferred decontamination methodology for ECBC. This collaborative effort “will be an exclusive partnership between ECBC and the CDC,” Edmonds says. “The potential outcome of this study could lead to incredible solutions to protect our nation from toxin attacks.”

ECBC has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and has a distinguished history of providing the U.S. Armed Forces with quality systems.

© FrontLine Defence 2013