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    Monday, December 26, 2005

    Gas Poisons Russian Shoppers

    CNN reported this about one hour ago. Adds fuel to my misgivings for ever going to Russia.

    CNN says
    More than 70 people were sickened after gas was released Monday in a chain store and boxes with glass containers attached to wires were found in three other outlets of the same store. Police said they believed a commercial dispute or blackmail attempt was behind the incidents.

    ...Stepchenko said the gas was preliminarily determined to be methyl mercaptan. The U.S. Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says methyl mercaptan is a gas smelling like rotten cabbage that is both naturally occurring and manufactured for use in plastics and pesticides.
    The CDC says Methyl Mercaptan is a naturally occuring gas found in our body, and certain foods like nuts and cheeses. It is, of course, also made in factories as a byproduct and could have been received there.

    Its chemical structure is CH3SH, and other sources highlight that it is found in trace amounts on the brain, and that the one documented case of high dosage produced coma and then death. It seems to work on the nervous system.

    OSHA reports that
    1) As a product of intestinal flora, methyl mercaptan is metabolized to hydrogen sulfide, which in turn, is metabolized to thiosulfate by the enzyme rhodanese. 2) Three worker fatalties at a chemical plant accident involving methyl mercaptan were characterized by sulfhemoglobin levels of 6-15%.
    Interestingly, the Journal of Dentistry, (J Dent. 2004 Sep; 32(7)555-9) reports that it is the predominant cause of bad breath.

    More importantly, this incident combined with the dioxin attacks on Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko highlight possibly a disturbing trend--the use of readily available toxic (but non-deadly) chemicals by groups to disrupt society and blackmail. Especially in Russia, a country with the inability to track the numerous international criminal and dissident groups inside it, we may see terrorist groups using this method to more easily and cheaply affect large groups of people.

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