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How Can The Presence of Ricin or Other Chemical, Biological, Nuclear Agents Be Detected?

  • A wide variety of detection equipment is available commercially. Tests, detectors, and monitors of varying sensitivity (lowest level detectable) and specificity (ability to distinguish target from similar compounds) have been developed and/or used by the armed forces to identify the nerve agents and vesicants. There are now handheld bio-detection systems increasingly available to emergency services personnel, which can give results within around 15 minutes of the agent being picked up in the air-sampling unit.

The BTATM test strip allows screening for anthrax, ricin, botulinum toxin and staphilococcus enterotoxin B (SEB) (Photo: Tetracore Inc and Alexeter Technologies LLC 2001)

  • Chemical detection equipment currently used by Hazmat teams varies considerably by locality. For large metropolitan areas, current detectors range from adequate instrumentation to absolutely no capability for chemical warfare agent detection.
  • Chemical Agency Monitors (CAM) can be utilized to detect various chemical, biological and nuclear agents.
  • The release of any chemicals or toxic materials will typically be categorized as a hazardous materials (Hazmat) incident. The response to a Hazmat incident is somewhat standardized across the country. Hazmat teams will possess a majority of the locality's chemical detection equipment.
  • Hazmat teams are routinely equipped with a variety of chemical detectors and monitoring kits, primarily chemical-specific tests indicating only the presence or absence of the suspected chemical or class of chemical. A negative response of the test means only that a specific substance is not present in significant quantity; a positive response says nothing about the possible presence of other hazardous agents.
  • The M9 paper and the M256 kit are simple and inexpensive devices that enable responders to rapidly detect classical chemical warfare agents. The photo-ionization detector, the ion mobility detector, the surface acoustic wave detector, and the colorimetric tubes give medical personnel an ability to deal with a wider array of chemicals.

National Terror Alert Resource & Information Center 2003

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