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  1. #1
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    Souvenirs from tropical and subtropical climates come with a toxic secret

    Some wooden souvenirs arriving at Halifax airport come with a toxic secret
    by David Burke, CBC News
    July 11, 2018

    'One bean is enough to kill an adult. I canít imagine how little would be required to kill a child'


    Christopher McIntosh, an officer with the Canada Border Services Agency, points to a jequirity bean on a wooden truck seized at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. 'They are a poisonous bean that people use because they're esthetically pleasing,' he says. (David Burke/CBC)

    When the snow starts to fly, border services officer Christopher McIntosh has a good idea what he'll find in the luggage of Halifax vacationers returning from down south, and they often don't know about a potential danger.

    It's not drugs or weapons, but something that could be just as dangerous ó beady red or orange eyes staring up at him. The eyes, known as jequirity beans, are often attached to small wooden statues carved to resemble an animal.

    The beans are the seeds of Abrus precatorius plant, which contains the toxin abrin, according to the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System.

    The website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says abrin causes illness because it gets into the cells of the body and prevents cells from producing the proteins they need. Without those proteins, the cells die.


    Most Nova Scotians buy ornaments with the jequirity beans in them as souvenirs, never suspecting the beans aren't allowed to enter the country. (David Burke/CBC)

    "They are a poisonous bean that people use because they're esthetically pleasing, they look like a little ladybug. They're used for things like eyes, jewelry, and people don't understand just how poisonous they can be and how toxic they are," said McIntosh, who works for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

    If swallowed, the beans could make a person sick and possibly kill them, according to botanist Marian Munro, who researched the bean just before she retired as botany curator for the Nova Scotia Museum.


    Jequirity beans can be red or orange in colour, and are often used as ornaments in crafts sold to tourists in the tropics. (David Burke/CBC)

    The beans are not allowed in Canada, but show up in Nova Scotians' luggage on a regular basis, said McIntosh.

    The CBSA sees an upswing in the numbers coming in during the winter when many Canadians vacation in the tropics.

    Many people have no idea they're carrying a prohibited product in their bags.

    "Down there, people can find these touristy items that they think are cute and want to bring back as a trinket or souvenir from their trip, and unfortunately they don't understand the dangers that they pose to not only themselves, but those around them," said MacIntosh.

    Eating the beans can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and hallucinations. Within a few days, it can cause the liver, spleen and kidneys to stop working and the person could die, according to the CDC's website.

    "My concern would be the jewelry that we wear, young children getting hold of it, one bean is enough to kill an adult, I can't imagine how little would be required to kill a child. I don't know if the risk is worth it," said Munro.

    The jequirity beans are attached to a wooden object, but it doesn't mean they'll stay there forever.

    "These items are handcrafted, you know, they're glued in place," said McIntosh. "I think it's very easy for someone to potentially remove that item. Again, the jewelry things like that, they fall apart, the string breaks, things deteriorate."


    McIntosh says there's a risk the beans could fall out and accidentally be swallowed. (David Burke/CBC)

    When McIntosh or any of his colleagues find an item with a jequirity bean in it, it's seized and destroyed. Along the way, the border officer tells the item's owner about the dangers of the bean and why they're prohibited in Canada.

    "I think it's important [for] the traveling public to take the time if they're going to be traveling abroad and take a look at our website, try to educate themselves as much as they can," said McIntosh. He hopes that education combined with word of mouth from travelers mean he and his co-workers will eventually see fewer red eyes in luggage.


    A necklace made of jequirity beans. Any item with the bean is seized and destroyed. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

  2. #2
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    Re: Souvenirs from tropical and subtropical climates come with a toxic secret

    Highly toxic jequirity beans from the abrus precatorius plant resemble a little ladybug and are used for things like eyes or headlights on toys, for jewelry, and in percussion instruments.

    Abrus precatorius - Wikipedia
    Abrus precatorius is a severely invasive plant in warm temperate to tropical regions, so much so that it has become effectively pantropical in distribution. It had been widely introduced by humans, and the brightly coloured and hard-shelled seeds had been spread by birds. By the end of the twentieth century, it had been proclaimed as an invasive weed in many regions including some in Belize, Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, Polynesia, and parts of the mainland United States. In Florida in particular, the plant has invaded undisturbed pinelands and hammocks, including the vulnerable pine rocklands.

    Nuts and Seeds in Health and Disease Prevention, 2011
    Abrus precatorius is a vine native to India (and Africa) and other tropical and subtropical areas of the world, and is known by a variety of names, including jequirty bean, rosary pea, crab’s eye, and love bean.

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