Dec 26 2005

Precursor WMD Attacks in Russia

Published by at 11:11 am under All General Discussions,Bin Laden/GWOT

Ed Morrissey first posted on a strange illness hitting school children in Chechnya. The Russians had been dismissing a chemical or biological attack so I had held off posting on it. But now there is a new gas attack in a shopping mall there:

Scores of people were hospitalized Monday morning after a pungent substance used to odorize natural gas was deliberately released in a St. Petersburg home repair store, police said.

Canisters attached to wires and timers were later found at three other branches of the same chain of Maxidom stores in the city, officials said.
Police linked the attack to business rivalries.

“The main reason for the poisoning in Maxidom stores in St. Petersburg is dishonest competition,” a spokesman for the St. Petersburg police told the Russian news agency Interfax. “Management of Maxidom contacted the Interior Ministry not long ago complaining that they had started to receive letters with threats to spoil their pre-New Year trade.”

Officials said 78 shoppers and store employees needed medical attention, but no one was seriously injured. Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, said 66 of the 78 people who sought medical care were admitted to hospitals. Three people remained hospitalized Monday evening, officials said.

The rationale this is some rivalry is ridiculous. Was the Chechnya school problems simply rival schools going at each other as well?

AT LEAST 45 people, most of them children, have been hospitalised in the Russian region of Chechnya with an illness that doctors say might be nerve-gas poisoning.

Pupils, teachers and workers began reporting breathing trouble and headaches on Friday at a school in the town of Starogladovskaya, emergency workers said.

Later reports had this to say

Ninety people have shown similar symptoms in the district over the past several days. Seven people have been discharged from the district hospital after their health status improved.

Some patients are staying at children’s hospital No. 9 in Grozny and a number of others are at different hospitals.

Certain doctors are of the opinion that the disease is psychogenic in nature, and have criticized journalists for facilitating its spread.

I find this hard to believe. What makes more sense is for these to be practice runs by the terrorists, or even worse. These could be demonstrations to the government of the terrorist abilities, with demands being passed along on how to avoid future real attacks. I would not be so dismissive. But the government may not have much of a choice right now.

This is what we can look forward to if the left continues to worry more about terrorists’ right to privacy here in the US than what brought them to the US in the first place.

Ed Morrissey has more on this story today.

31 responses so far

31 Responses to “Precursor WMD Attacks in Russia”

  1. Snapple says:

    It is possible that the authorities believe that ethyl glycol is the cause and are having a news blackout for a couple of reasons.

    If this is due to water contamination, they are embarrassed and want to cover it up.

    If the kids are drinking antifreeze/moonshine/etc they may not want others to know that they can “get high” this way.

    A big cohort of girls are twelve to fifteen years old. They might be depressed enough and dopey enough to drink antifreeze.

    Just speculating, but American Indian kids do this.

  2. Snapple says:

    This article describes how a lot of Swedish kids killed themselves with ethyl glycol. The media publicized this in Sweden.
    Maybe that is why there is a media blackout. They are trying to stop Chechen teenagers from contemplating “contagion suicide.”

    Karlson-Stiber-C; Persson-H, “Ethylene glycol poisoning: experiences from an epidemic in Sweden” J-Toxicol-Clin-Toxicol. 1992; 30(4): pp565-74.

    “(8) “Contagion” suicide.(109) This is where one suicide seems to be the trigger for others, and includes “cluster” and “copycat” suicides, most often among adolescents.(110) For example, on April 8, 1986, Yukiko Okada, 18, jumped to her death from the seventh floor of her recording studio. She had recently received an award as Japan’s best new singer. Media attention was intense. 33 young people, one nine years old, killed themselves in the next 16 days, 21 by jumping from buildings.(111)

    There are comparable examples from many parts of the world. The highly publicized suicide of a Hungarian beauty queen was followed by a epidemic of suicides by young women who used the same method.(112)

    Similarly, there was a spate of ethylene glycol (automobile antifreeze) intentional poisonings in Sweden following two accidental fatalities and “spectacular attention in the Swedish mass media.”(113)

    In the U.S. there have been clusters of suicides, most often (or most often reported) among high school students, but not necessarily using identical methods.(114) Even fictional accounts may be enough, as in a claimed spurt of “Russian roulette” deaths shortly after the release of the film The Deer Hunter, with its powerful and nihilistic Russian roulette scene.(115) On the other hand, other studies found no linkage between most newspaper reports and suicides.(116) Nor do copy-cat suicides occur consistently. For example, the 1994 death of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was not followed by a cluster of suicides.(117) In the seven weeks following his death there were 24 other suicides in the Seattle area, compared with 31 in the corresponding weeks of the previous year.

  3. Snapple says:

    AJ–I will remember not to post the full article, but RFERL lets you do this if you give them credit– I am pretty sure about that.

    Things are very grim in Chechnya, and maybe the teeny-boppers are drinking antifreeze. American Indian kids do this on reservations because their lives are bleak, too. Young teenagers are pretty dumb.
    The fact that a big group of girls who got sick were all about the same age suggests that they may have done this as a group–at a party or in the lunchroom. Some kids got sick after lunch.

    If the kids are drinking ethyl glycol, the state security will have figured this out pretty fast from the girls, and the response will be to shut-down the media so other kids don’t get any ideas. But they are getting this idea from their friends.

    I am just speculating; this is just my theory, but I am an educator with a degree in Soviet Studies. A lot of what happens in Russia is just really dumb stuff like what I am describing.

    The response in Russia would be to hide the problem with censorship rather than to educate and inform.

    The Russians are talking about better psychiatric services for the kids in Chechnya. Perhaps the real reason is to stop the substance abuse rather than to treat some mythical mass conversion disorder.
    That may only be the cover story.

    Admitting that kids are drinking antifreeze might be a bit sensitive. Cetainly the school would be reluctant to admit this was going on in the lunchroom.

    Kids drink in American schools, too.

    I would lock up antifreeze and ban carrying water bottles, flasks, etc.

    This is just a hypothesis.

  4. Snapple says:

    Here is a link about the ethanol glycol poisonings in Sweden

    The point is that the reporting on two fatalities lead to an epidemic of overdozing.

    “Swedish Poison Information Centre, Stockholm.

    In 1987 two lethal adult cases of accidental ethylene glycol poisoning were given spectacular attention in the Swedish mass media. This resulted in an epidemic of intentional ethylene glycol poisonings. In addition to six cases related to alcohol abuse, another 30 severe suicidal poisonings were reported to the Swedish Poison Information Centre in five months. The clinical course and outcome in these 36 severe cases are reviewed. The primary clinical manifestations were metabolic acidosis, CNS disturbances and kidney damage with circulatory failure in the most severe cases. Mortality was 17%. Fragmentation of the normal striation in heart cells was found in two of the fatal cases and severe brain damage in all fatal poisonings. The degree of acidosis but not the serum ethylene glycol level correlated with both kidney damage and outcome. Treatment included ethanol, correction of the metabolic acidosis and dialysis. Four patients with serum ethylene glycol concentrations of 10-20 mmol/L (620-1240 mg/L) but with no or minimal metabolic acidosis were treated with ethanol alone; none of these patients developed renal damage.”

    PMID: 1433427 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  5. Snapple says:

    Here is a long article about ethyl glycol poisoning.

    Sometimes this chemical is used in water pipes. That could be something to look at.

    It can leak out of a car radiator–so a schoolbus might cause problems.

    The article says that 22 intentional ingestions occurred in 1996 in Illinois because people read about another case in the paper.

    Ethylene glycol was the most common cause of poisoning deaths in the US in 2003.

    Some teenagers drank it thinking it was wine.

    The symptoms are dizziness, vomiting, poor coordination, confusion, urinary difficulty, stupor, respiratory distress, fatigue, ataxia.

  6. Snapple says:

    Local doctors blame ethylene alcohol poisoning–but they have suggested the kids got this due to environmental pollution. Nobody has suggested the kids drank it, but kids do drink this sometimes.

    Ethylene alcohol poisoning


    Clinical Manifestations

    Ethylene glycol produces CNS depression similar to that of ethanol. Symptoms of ethylene glycol toxicity include confusion, ataxia, hallucinations, slurred speech, and coma. Symptoms are most severe six to 12 hours after ingestion, when the acidic metabolites of ethylene glycol are at their maximal concentration. The presentation may be similar to ethanol intoxication, if the patient presents early or has consumed small amounts of ethylene glycol. However, an ethanol odor will be absent, and serum or respiratory ethanol levels will be too low to account for the degree of CNS depression. The absence of a strong odor of alcohol in a patient who appears intoxicated should raise the suspicion of ethylene glycol ingestion.4

    Following a period of CNS depression, metabolic acidosis and cardiopulmonary symptoms become prominent, although co-ingestion of ethanol will delay the metabolic acidosis. The patient may experience nausea, vomiting, hyperventilation, and hypocalcemia with muscle tetany and seizures. Hypertension, tachycardia, and cardiac failure may ensue. Pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, and adult respiratory distress syndrome have also been reported.3,9

    Renal involvement may become apparent within 24 to 72 hours after ingestion.

  7. Snapple says:

    Here is a very interesting article on Ergot poisoning. It describes the symptoms and even the Ergot poisoning of pre-teen girls in Salem, Massachusetts and more modern cases, including one in France in the early 1950s.

    Ergot sounds more like what the Chechen kids have than ethylene glycol poisoning to me, but the local doctors say ethylene glycol from some environmental source.

    Some of the kids have bad stomach aches, which is typical of ergot poisoning. ERGOT causes abdominal cramping and is used to induce abortions. when it is prevalent, women don’t have babies. Some kids said they were cold, and some have been acting psycotic and jumping on their beds. Some people have had convulsions.

    Poisoning attributed to Ergot of Rye is referred to as ergotism. Although this fungus is recognized as one species, there are two sets of symptoms that can be found in cases where serious poisoning as occurred: convulsive and gangrenous ergotism.

    Convulsive ergotism is characterized by nervous dysfunction, where the victim is twisting and contorting their body in pain, trembling and shaking, and wryneck, a more or less fixed twisting of the neck, which seems to simulate convulsions or fits. In some cases, this is accompanied by muscle spasms, confusions, delusions and hallucinations, as well as a number of other symptoms.

    In gangrenous ergotism, the victim may lose parts of their extremities, such as toes, fingers, ear lobes or in more serious cases, arms and legs may be lost. This type of ergotism causes gangrene to occur by constricting the blood vessels leading to the extremities…..

    How did the witch hunt begin? Once victims of ergotism began exhibiting symptoms of alkaloid poisoning of Ergot, people began to look for the “witch or witches” that caused this sickness and misery to occur. In Salem, Massachusetts, the witch hunt began, on January 20, 1692 when three pre-teen girls began began to exhibit symptoms of what Matossian interpreted as convulsive ergotism. This would, of course, have been interpreted as acts of strange behavior on the part of the people of Salem. They began blasphemous screaming, had convulsive seizures, were in a trance-like states. They were taken immediately to a doctor, but after about a month, since a physical answer to for the behaviors of the girls could not be found, the doctor concluded that the girls had been bewitched…..

    Even in the 20th. Century, there have been occasions where outbreaks of ergotism, due to consumption of contaminated Rye. Ergotism occurred in 1926-27 in Russia, with 10,000 reported cases, in England in 1927, with 200 cases, among central European Jewish immigrants and the last known example occurred on August 12, 1951. On that day, Jean Vieu, a medical doctor in the little town of Pont-St. Esprit, in Provence, France, was the first to discover the outbreak while puzzling over two cases of patients who complained of intense pain in the lower abdomen…Some of these symptoms included low body temperatures and cold fingertips. Even stranger were the wild babbling and hallucinations….victims were tied to their beds, those that escaped were running mad and frantic through the streets. All available strait jackets were rushed to the town to restrain the victims of this sickness. If there were any town’s people of Pont-St.-Esprit that were not terrified by this time, they became so when they learned of a demented, eleven year old boy, who had tried to strangle his own mother. Paranoia soon spread throughout the town, rumors soon spread that this wave of dementia was due to a mass poisoning that had been carried out by the local authorities. …
    an unethical farmer had apparently sold contaminated rye grain to a miller who had mixed it with wheat and grounded it into flower. The miller then shipped the flour to Pont-St.-Esprit, to the baker who was also collaborating with the farmer and miller. It was their greed that was responsible for over two hundred cases of alkaloid poisoning, thirty two cases of insanity and four deaths.

  8. Snapple says:

    Here is Moscow’s Serbsky Institute (a psychiatric facility) saying the Chechen kids have a conversion disorder. They say young girls are more suseptible to this.

    During the communist era, the Serbsky collaborated with the KGB and diagnosed “sluggish schizophrenia” in dissidents. This mental illness does not exist. The symptoms are exhibiting political/religious/nationalist dissent. So I would be skeptical of the Serbsky. In the past they said that people were crazy when they weren’t. The Serbsky made their diagnosis of the Chechen children from watching TV.

    They gave their diagnosis before medical tests are done.
    This seems pretty dumb to me. When a person has a mental illness, he is usually given a good physical to see if there might be a medical basis for his symptoms.

    Local doctors say the illness is from ethylene glycol poisoning.
    To me the symptoms seem like they might be ERGOT poisoning, perhaps from bad rye bread.

    Now the government is going to stop the media from reporting on this. They claim that the “hysteria” will subside if it is not in the news. I am skeptical.

    “Chechen children are suffering from convulsive conversion syndrome, Serbsky Institute Deputy Director Zurab Kikalidze told a Friday press conference in Grozny.

    ““Specialists of our institute saw immediately from television reports that children were not suffocating with an asthma but suffering from a heavy stress,” Dmitriyeva said.

    “Specialists of the Serbsky Institute were immediately sent to Chechnya, Dmitriyeva said. She said her deputy would stay in Chechnya until Sunday, “and we will send another team if Chechen colleagues decide that they need more help…..They are also suffering from psychosomatic contagion, which means that other people start feeling bad when one person is unwell. The condition begins with faintness and develops into convulsions,” he said.

    “The international classification of psychological and behavioral disorders defines convulsive conversion syndrome as a condition that resembles a bout of epileptic convulsions, but is not such due to its hysteric origin,” he said.

    Specialists link the syndrome “to an extensive stress caused by the hostilities in the republic, which kept the population under psycho-traumatic conditions for several years.” The patients suffer from asphyxia, faintness, excessive gesturing and mobility, and hysteria.

    The experts noted that the outbreak of the disease happed in the Shelkovskaya district, where the situation had been more stable than in the rest of Chechnya. They think that children in other districts suffered from the syndrome during the hostilities, and the Shelkovskaya district has an outbreak of post-syndrome.”

  9. Snapple says:

    Here is a description of Ergot poisoning. It is a lot like what these Chechen people are sick with. You can get this from eating bad rye bread. Here is the source:

    The Food Safety Information Handbook
    by Cynthia A. Roberts; Oryx Press, 2001 (pages 9-10)

    “Fungi, which include mushrooms and molds, also produce toxins that are harmful to humans. Molds produce toxins called mycotoxins, with the major mycotoxin-producing molds being Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Claviceps species. Molds usually grow on damp cereal grains such as rye, wheat, corn, rice, barley, and oats, or oilseeds (peanuts), and then excrete their mycotoxins during their life cycle. Most of these mycotoxins are very resistant to heat, so cooking does not reduce their harmfulness. The only way to prevent intoxication is by preventing the mold from contaminating the product during harvesting, drying, storage, and processing.

    One mold in particular, Claviceps purpurea, has been implicated in a number of historical events. Eating rye and other cereal grains contaminated with Claviceps purpurea results in the disease ergotism. This disease was first recorded in 857 in the Rhine Valley and has been recorded numerous times since, sometimes affecting up to 40,000 individuals at once. Rye is particularly susceptible to ergot contamination. Cold and damp growing or storage conditions also promote the formation of ergot. Ergot is the source of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); it and many other ergot derivatives are hallucinogens. The symptoms of ergotism are varied, but include central nervous system disorders such as muscle spasms, confusions, delusions, convulsive fits, hallucinations, visions, sensations of flying through the air, and psychosis. Other common symptoms are a prickly sensation in the limbs, feelings of intense alternating heat and cold, and increased appetite between episodes of fits. Linnda Caporael and Mary K. Matossian propose that the witch trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, could very well have been the result of ergot poisoning. They link the weather, crop, and economic conditions from the years 1691 and 1692 to an increased consumption of bread made from rye that could have been contaminated with ergot. The symptoms exhibited by those accused of being bewitched are suspiciously similar to the symptoms of ergotism. In another interesting footnote to history, Peter the Great had to cancel his plans to attack the Ottoman Empire in 1722 because his troops and their horses consumed rye contaminated with ergot, which caused hundreds either to die or go mad (Caporael 1976; Matossian 1989). “

  10. Snapple says:

    During the 6th Century BC, the Assyrians used ergot to poison enemy wells. It can make your limbs drop off from lack of circulation. It makes people “dance” and the kids were jumping on their hospital beds.

    I still think that this is probably the result of poor handling/storage of rye in a region disrupted by war, if the sickness is ergot.

    It is disturbing that the Russians have now blacked-out the news on this illness on the grounds that it is psychosomatic and being spread by media coverage.

  11. Snapple says:

    “There are two types of ergotism–gangrenous and convulsive. As the name implies, gangrenous ergotism is characterized by dry gangrene of the extremities followed by the falling away of the affected portions of the body. The condition occurred in epidemic proportions in the Middle Ages and was known by a number of names, including ignis sacer, the holy fire.
    Convulsive ergotism is characterized by a number of symptoms. These include crawling sensations in the skin, tingling in the fingers, vertigo, tinnitus aurium, headaches, disturbances in sensation, hallucination, painful muscular contractions leading to epileptiform convulsions, vomiting, and diarrhea (16, 18, 21). The involuntary muscular fibers such as the myocardium and gastric and intestinal muscular coat are stimulated. There are mental disturbances such as mania, melancholia, psychosis, and delirium. ”