Toxic beans cause concern among Fair buyers
Exotic jewelry for sale at the Indiana State Fair is raising questions because of what's lurking inside.
13 Investigates learned a tiny bean is prompting health concerns around the world, but is sold here in the United States with no warning.
Tucked between the stones and beads, a bracelet of eye popping red and black jequirity beans. Mooresville bead collector Candace Polster took one look and was hooked.
"It was so exquisite looking. I had never seen anything like that before," she said.
The beans are native to Indonesia and have gained notoriety around the world. Candace had big plans for the ladybug look-a-likes, too. But had no idea what was in her hands could make someone sick.
Polster went online to order more beans and found health alerts instead.
"It turns out that they were recalled in other countries and it has a toxic poison in it," described the young mother.
The poison found in the beans is similar to Ricin, the toxin used in chemical warfare agents. Polster was wearing it around her wrist.
"As soon as I discovered that, I took the bracelet off immediately and scrubbed my arms and my hands with soap, hot soap and water and I put it in a bag," Polster said, holding up the bag with the bracelet in it.
So where did Candace get this bracelet now prompting public health warnings in the United Kingdom?
"A street vendor had them in a little basket on a table. There was a big pile of them," she said.
Eyewitness News found the traveling street vendor, Mary Santinlam, at the Indiana State Fair.
13 Investigates showed the warnings to Mary about the very bracelets she was selling.
"In the United Kingdom, they're banning these bracelets," explained 13 Investigates. "Did you know that?"
"I'm not sure," Mary said.
She says her supply of bracelets came from relatives in Ecuador. She says no one has ever complained of getting sick.
"No, no, no," she insisted.
As recently as March of this year, more warnings have been put out about the bracelets overseas. But here in the U.S, no warnings or concerns and the bracelets are sold on the open market.
"You never think about that when you're buying jewelry off a street vendor," Polster said.
13 Investigates wanted to know if Hoosiers were at risk, so we took a bracelet and the Internet reports to the Indiana Regional Poison Control Center and its medical director, Dr. Brent Furbee.
"I think there's a potential for people to have an allergic reaction with it. There is the potential if they chew them up to get nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. I don't see it as a huge threat," explained Dr. Furbee.
He says the outer shell has a hard protective wall that acts as a barrier to Abrin, a natural poison inside the seeds. Chewing them, said Furbee, is likely the only sure way to make you sick. He says U.S. poisoning statistics show only minor problems.
In 2010, the latest year statistics are available from the Centers for Disease Control, 177 cases of jequirity and castor bean illness were reported to the CDC. Fifty-seven people had to get medical treatment, but none of the cases were severe or deadly.
"It's probably not a bad idea to tell them to keep them away from their toddler, because kids do have a way of putting things in their mouth and swallowing," Furbee said, talking about the potential choking hazard to children.
Back at the State Fair, the vendor doesn't see a need for a warning.
"This more a like the younger, teenagers," said Santinlam, explaining why she doesn't plan to warn customers.
"I think that consumers need to know about it," said Polster.
For bead enthusiasts like Polster, even a slight risk is unnerving. Rummaging for unique pieces now comes with a little more caution and a rule to research before wearing.
Candace Polster plans to discard her beads according to guidelines provided by the United Kingdom.
The Indiana State Fair thanked 13 Investigates for bringing the issue to their attention and spoke with
The vendor who has now agreed to stop selling the Jequirity bracelets at the fair.