The extremely toxic protein, ricin, is derived from castor beans and is a potential terrorist weapon. Adsorption to clays might minimize the environmental persistence and toxic effects of this toxin. Ricin adsorption to clay minerals was measured using batch adsorption isotherms. Enzyme-linked immunoassay methods were used to quantify aqueous ricin concentrations. Montmorillonite, sepiolite and palygorskite effectively adsorbed ricin from aqueous solutions and yielded mostly Langmuir-type isotherms. The monolayer adsorption capacity from a Langmuir equation fit at pH 7 was 444 g ricin/kg for montmorillonite (SWy-2), but was only 5.6 g ricin/kg for kaolinite (KGa-1b). Monolayer capacities for sepiolite (SepSp-1) and palygorskite (PFl-1) at pH 7 were 59.2 and 58.1 g ricin/kg. The high-charge montmorillonite (SAz-1) effectively adsorbed ricin at pH 7, but yielded a linear isotherm with K = 5530 L/kg. At pH 5, both montmorillonites (SWy-2 and SAz-1) yielded Langmuir-type isotherms with monolayer capacities of 694 and 641 g ricin/kg. Clay samples with higher cation exchange capacities generally adsorbed more ricin, but adsorption also followed specific surface area. X-ray diffraction of <2 μm SWy-2 treated with 470 g ricin/kg indicated expansion up to 34.6 Å at buffered pHs of 4 and 7, but not at pH 10. Furthermore, ricin adsorption was greatest at pH 4 and 7, but minimal at pH 10. Treatment with 1.41 kg of purified ricin/kg clay at pH 5 yielded a 35.3 Å peak and adsorption of ~1.2 kg ricin/kg. Similar treatment with lower-purity ricin yielded less expansion and lower adsorption. The 35.3 Å peak interpreted either as a d002 or d001 reflection indicates a 70.6 Å or a 35.3 Å ricin/SWy-2 complex. This implies that adsorption and air drying have compressed interlayer ricin molecules by 18 to 65%. Effective ricin adsorption by montmorillonite suggests that it could be used to minimize the toxic effects of dispersed ricin.

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