Scores sickened after release of gas in St. Petersburg store

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.

A spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, Viktor Beltsov, said 78 people sought medical care and 66 of them were hospitalized. None of them were assessed as being in life-threatening condition, he said.

A spokesman for the St. Petersburg police, Vyacheslav Stepchenko, later said 15 people were hospitalized. It was not immediately clear if the discrepancy meant that some people had been released.

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 agency's Web site said little is known about the gas's potential health effects. One person exposed to very high concentrations of the gas went into a coma and died, the Web site says.

Stepchenko said that a custodian at a branch of the Maksidom home-supplies chain found a suspicious box before the store's opening and when she opened the box, she found ampoules attached to wires and a timer. The woman inadvertently broke one of the ampoules and noticed a repulsive smell, but apparently was not sickened, he said.

All those who sought medical care were from another branch of the chain, Stepchenko said. Boxes with glass containers attached to timers were found in two other stores by employees, who carried them outside and covered them with buckets; police explosives experts defused them, he said.

Officials of the store chain, which has outlets only in St. Petersburg and sells furnishings, home-repair material and other domestic articles, had told police that they had received threatening letters in recent weeks, Stepchenko said.

The letters threatened to disrupt the company's sales during the holiday gift-buying period, the managers said, according to Stepchenko. New Year's Eve is a traditional gift-giving day in Russia, the equivalent of Western celebrations of Christmas.

Police initially are considering the incidents as "hooliganism."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower