There have been a few incidents of mail purporting to contain the chemical poison ricin.

Ricin is made from castor beans, a plant that is plentiful in many areas of the world, including the United States. Castor beans are used to make castor oil and other beneficial products used for many purposes. In fact, castor oil is often used in the manufacture of paper, including paper used as envelopes. Trace amounts of castor are present in many common items. The process for making ricin from castor beans is rather difficult and quite dangerous. To cause harm, ricin must be injected, inhaled, or ingested.

How to Limit Exposure to a Suspicious Substance in the Mail?

What should you do if you receive a suspicious substance by U.S. Mail?





Above all else, follow your local established protocols. Notify your supervisor.


If there is a known medical emergency or chemical reaction to the mailpiece, call 911 and then call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455.


If there is no known medical emergency or chemical reaction, call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455.


Isolate the damaged or suspicious letter or package. Cordon off the immediate area.


Ensure that anyone who touched the mailpiece washes his or her hands with soap and water.


List everyone who touched the mailpiece.

Include contact information and have the information available for authorities. If asked, provide the information to first responders.


Follow first responders’ instructions on decontamination procedures.

Additional Protective Measures for High-Risk Facilities

You can find more guidance on suspected chemical, biological, or radiological contamination from the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov