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Kazakhstani scientists explain Kalachi sleeping syndrome

11 june 2015, 02:18
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Tengrinews file photo
Tengrinews file photo

Kazakhstan scientists are close to unraveling the mysterious "sleeping sickness" in the Kazakhstani village of Kalachi, Tengrinews reports citing RIA Novosti with a reference to deputy director general of radioecology at the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan Sergey Lukashenko.

The last case of sleeping illness was recorded on 12 April 2015. The sleeping syndrome includes sudden and uncontrollable urges to fall asleep among villagers. It can happen anywhere and at any time: in the street, in a classroom, at work.

According to Lukashenko, specialists from the Center are close to uncovering the truth. The scientists took samples of soil, air and underground water from 12 Kalachi wells. They conducted tests and developed a working version of what was causing the unusual phenomenon of the sleeping village. Further test are required to confirm the findings but Lukashenko shared the results of preliminary tests.

"Excessive contents of carbon monoxide CO and hydrocarbon CH have been found in the samples from Kalachi. I would formulate the causes of the sleeping sickness like this: periodic inhalation of air with depressed oxygen concentration and elevated concentration of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons," he said.

The expert added that the "sleeping sickness" was caused not by any one factor but by a combination of three factors - lack of oxygen and an excess of CO and CH.

"Each of these three components taken separately are almost within the normal ranges - so separately they do not arise any suspicion, which is why the cause of the sleeping sickness could not be figured out for a long time. But a combination of the three factors gives a classic synergy effect. Otherwise not very significant factors reinforce each other and cause the sleeping sickness," he explained.

For a long time, scientists were on the wrong track - Kalachi is located next to Soviet uranium mines that were closed long ago, so the scientists tried to establish a connection between the "sleeping sickness" and radiation from the mines. The experts also believe there is a connection between the mines and the syndrome but not the one that everyone expected.

"There is a relationship between the mines and the sleeping sickness, only uranium has nothing to do with it. The mining works required lots of wood - for fixing, flooring and so on. When the mines were closed, they were filled with water. When the wood came into contact with water, carbon monoxide began to being produced. And when there were large amounts of it, the gas gradually came to the surface," Lukashenko said. Another source of carbon monoxide are cars and furnaces of Kalachi villagers, he added.

The scientists said there would be no recurrences in the near future. But, perhaps, they would begin in winter.

"Oddly enough, we are interested in new cases, to understand exactly why this happens. Perhaps this is due to the change of seasons or certain weather conditions," Lukashenko said. But unlike the scientists, the villagers are not so eager to experience sudden urges to fall asleep.

So, it's not surprising that they are massively resettling. Authorities of Akmola Oblast announced the beginning of the resettlement of the villagers to other parts of the region and neighboring regions. 150 people have moved already. About 240 persons are still on the list for resettlement. There are 396 people living in the village now.

By Dinara Urazova


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