Aleksandr Otdelnov

The box game

Those in the smoking room

December 31, 1981

Occasionally gas flues and traps

Aleksandr Otdelnov

​Born in 1956 in Dzerzhinsk. After graduating from the Dzerzhinsk Polytechnic Institute, he worked at several chemical plants in the city, including hazardous industries. He built and then for almost 20 years headed the Capella factory, which produced hair cosmetics by Wella, Schwarzkopf and P&G.

The author of the storybook "Do not enter without a gas mask!". Hereinafter - quotes from the book.

Penetrating the pores of the skin, TDA* vapors actively interact with water and paint the skin in a bright yellow color. The entire shift we had to work in rubber coated gloves. My hands naturally sweated and as a result, my hands became ocher-tinted. I was embarrassed to give a handshake, especially with new acquaintances, and I had to explain that I am not a Chinese and do not suffer from jaundice. Not only hands! Sometimes after a tiring night shift, after a shower I would lie on a clean white sheet, and upon getting up I would discover a yellow outline, like an epitaphios on the sheet! Doing the laundry my wife would call this “Chinese trace”. 

 (Transparent cockroaches and "Chinese trace". "Caprolactam” plant. Shop 31. 1986; "Korund" Plant. Diisocyanate shop. 1980)

TDA (toluenediamine) causes eczema, asthma, affects the liver, and destroys the red blood cells.


The box game was very popular. A matchbox was flicked off the edge of the table and depending on which plane it would land, points were scored: 0, 1, 5 or 10. The one who was the last to score 21 would lose. The case of the matchbox was put on the nose of the loser.  He had to take it off without using his hands solely by means of facial muscles. The loser was forced to make faces and shake his head, making other participants laugh at him.

That night this lot befell Gena the Goose, the owner of an exceptionally big nose. The case of the box was pulled on his nose with great difficulty. It should be noted that Gena the Goose was older than the majority of us. He got this nickname not only because of his nose, but also because he lived in the village and bred geese. This gave us, city guys, plenty of room for making fun of him, which made him very angry. You can imagine what was happening in the smoking room when he, wincing, splashing his saliva and uttering oaths, unsuccessfully tried to shake the matchbox case off from the nose. Finally, the mad Goose ran out of patience, called us f****** goats and rams and jumped out of the smoking-room, promising us to make Khalkhyn Gol*, which, in his view, was the height of the apocalypse.


Those in the smoking room did not take his words to heart, as before the Goose had promised to make

Khalkhyn Gol too many of his offenders. The homer laughter accompanying this “show” had not yet died down, when the Goose wearing a gas mask appeared in the doorway of the smoking room holding a rubber glove filled with liquid phosgene* in his hand. Then we heard an inarticulate moo from under the gas mask and everyone understood that he was talking about Khalkhyn Gol. The glove fell on the floor and the phosgene instantly evaporated, filling the smoking room with the smell of bad hay, characteristic of the deadly toxic substance. In a normal situation, everyone would have died. But nothing happened to us: we did not part with gas masks even in the smoking room and, holding our breath, were able to put them on in a matter of seconds.

Gena, of course, was caught and beaten, but not hurt. It was just phosgene! … We got used to it.

Khalkhyn Gol. “Korund” plant, Diisocyanate shop, Department 102. 1980

* Khalkhyn Gol is a local armed conflict between the allied forces of USSR and Mongolia, and Japan, which took place in 1939 at the Khalkhin-Gol river. 

* Phosgene is a chemical warfare agent, widely used in chemical production. At room temperature phosgene is a gas; with cooling to 8 ° C is converted into a liquid.


December 31, 1981 was a very frosty day, the temperature dropped below 40 ° C. However, no frost could spoil the pre-New Year mood of the workers of the transport shop diesel depot. The entire night shift came earlier in order to allow their evening shift co-workers catch the train and join their families at the celebration table. At 21 o'clock the entire shift, twelve men, went to shower.

At that time, in the 33 shop, the supply of both chlorine and carbon monoxide* to the chlorination furnace was cut off. At the same time, gas pumps continued to drive the oxide into the gasholder * until it overflowed. Since the gasholder was three hundred meters away from the factory building, the workers did not notice the overflow. In addition, it was dark, cold and everyone was in a hurry to get home. New Year was around the corner!  The bowl of the gasholder rose to its maximum and bumped into the upper limiters,

but the gas pump continued to supply carbon monoxide. An overpressure was created in the pipeline, oxide pushed the brine out of the hydraulic seal* and burst out through the overflow pipe. A firm ice shell formed around the crater, preventing the gas from discharging into the atmosphere. Oxide was nowhere to go. It rushed into the sewer and found the nearest exit – to the men's shower of the diesel depot.

All the shift perished, all twelve. Right on New Year's Eve …  

Carbon monoxide. “Caprolactam” plant. Shop 33. 1984

* Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odourless gas. If mixed with air it is explosive; is harmful when breathed.

* Gasholder is a large tank in which gas is stored.

* Hydraulic seal is a device for preventing the substance from contacting air.

Occasionally gas flues and traps had to be rapped with sledgehammers and cleaned with special scrapers. During this process the gases from the chlorination furnace would burst into the room, reacting with the water vapor in the air. As a result, a dense poisonous fog of hydrogen chloride, unreacted chlorine and phosgene, would form. In addition, regular (every 2 hours) discharge of the wasted materials from the chlorination furnace noticeably added to the mixture described above. Gas masks and sledgehammers are the main tools of the technical workers in this hell! However, people got used to this nightmare! …

Once during a shift, I went to see over the working rooms. There was a high gas concentration, usual for regular unloads of waste material blocks from the chlorination furnace. Wearing a gas mask, practically in zero visibility, I was slowly feeling my way through the condensation room. Suddenly, my hands touched a rounded object. Strange, nothing like this is allowed in this room! I took the object with both hands and tried to bring it closer to my eyes, or rather, to my gas mask. Then I heard an inarticulate moo.

To my amazement, the object itself rose, and I realized that  it was the head of a man in a gas mask! Holding the head with both hands and backing to the exit, I led this man into the corridor. There he could take off the gas mask.