Mystery of Kazakhstan's 'Sleepy Hollow' disease tracked to uranium mine
“The cause of the disease... has been established. It's carbon monoxide,” said Deputy Prime Minister Berdybek Saparbayev. “There used to be a uranium mine in the area, which is now closed. Occasionally it released carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon [sic, presumably methane] in high concentrations... That is when these 'sleepy disease' outbreaks happened.”
Villagers at Kalachi and Krasnogorsky, which stand roughly 600 meters apart, started complaining about strange onsets of sleepiness, nausea and hallucinations in March 2013. Doctors had trouble diagnosing the disease that affected about one in 10 people.
The abandoned uranium mine was on the locals' radar ever since the disease came, although they thought radiation rather than toxic gas was the cause. RT's crew, when it was shooting a documentary about the mystery of the Kazakh 'Sleepy Hollow', did indeed find high levels of radiation near the mine, but not in Kalachi itself.
The conclusion of the Kazakh researchers was independently confirmed in Moscow and Prague, Saparbayev said. The local authorities decided to move both villages to a safer location.
Krasnogorsky used to be a mining town with a population of 6,500, and had provided uranium ore for the Soviet nuclear industry since the 1960s. The town’s population dwindled to 130 after the mine was closed in early 1990s. Kalachi has some 600 residents.