Insecticidal traces Investigators arrest suspect following fatal watermelon poisoning in Moscow

The Magnit grocery store on Sovkhoznaya Street in Moscow. September 10, 2021.Igor Ivanko / Kommersant

On September 8, three members of a Moscow family fell ill after eating watermelon from the Magnit grocery store on Sovkhoznaya Street. All three were hospitalized and two later died. Several other residents of their building and the neighboring one were also hospitalized with poisoning symptoms. On September 13, the Moscow branch of Russia’s consumer rights watchdog (Rospotrebnadzor) said that they found traces of an insecticide in the watermelon the family ate. This same insect poison was found in other watermelons from the Magnit store. Moscow investigators arrested an exterminator from the pest-control company Klimovsk-Dez as a suspect in the case. However, officials haven’t offered an explanation as to why the family’s neighbors also fell ill.

On September 13, Rospotrebnadzor reported that traces of an insecticide were found in watermelon that apparently poisoned three members of a Moscow family last week. What’s more, this same substance was found in other watermelons taken from the Magnit grocery store location on Sovkhoznaya Street, where the family bought the fruit. “According to the results of a study of watermelons from the apartment of the sick and from the commercial enterprise Magnit, traces of a substance for pest control — exterminating insects — were found,” said Rospotrebnadzor’s Moscow branch.

The Telegram channel Baza claimed that the insecticide found in the watermelons is called “Tsigatrin” (symptoms of Tsigatrin poisoning include weakness, vomiting, headaches, and respiratory irritation).

Three members of the Moscow family were hospitalized after eating the contaminated watermelon on September 8. Two of them, a 61-year-old woman and her 15-year-old granddaughter, died on September 9 and 10. The Moscow branch of the Russian Investigative Committee subsequently launched a criminal case in connection with the deaths. 

On September 13, Moscow investigators announced the arrest of a suspect in the lethal poisoning case: a 39-year-old employee from the private extermination company Klimovsk-Dez, who carried out pest control in the Magnit store on September 6. The Investigative Committee named “acute chemical poisoning” as the cause of death for both victims. Investigators now believe a “violation of the rules for carrying out pest control” was the main cause of the poisonings. 

The Investigative Committee also published surveillance footage from the Magnit grocery store, in which a worker can be seen spraying one of the aisles. Earlier, the media published another clip of the surveillance camera footage, in which the worker appears to spray a rack of produce. Commenting on the leaked surveillance video, Magnit described this type of spraying as standard procedure, noting that customers are not allowed into the store for two hours after it takes place.

Russian Investigative Committee

The company the suspect works for is a branch of the pest-control firm Oblastnoy Tsentr Dezinfektsii LLC, which, as pointed out by the Telegram channel Zhaba i Gadyuk, was blacklisted as an “unscrupulous vendor” on two separate occasions in 2020. 

Following the death of the grandmother and granddaughter, several other residents of their building on Sovkhoznaya Street were hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning. Two other women from the neighboring building were admitted to the hospital, as well. At least two of the people admitted to hospital said that they didn’t eat any watermelon. According to Mash, a 52-year-old neighbor of the deceased ended up in the hospital with poisoning symptoms after eating a watermelon from another grocery chain, Pyaterochka. Mash claimed that the same pest-control company that sprayed the Magnit grocery store was working at this Pyaterochka location.

Following the poisoning, inspections were carried out in the building on Sovkhoznaya Street where most of the victims live. Specialists in protective suits took samples from various surfaces, as well as water and air samples. Residents of the building were also prohibited from using the water.

The Magnit grocery chain is urging people “to refrain from [drawing] conclusions” since the official cause of the deaths has yet to be determined. In the words of the company, Rospotrebnadzor “mentions traces of an insecticidal agent,” which could mean a “low concentration.” Magnit underscored that Rospotrebnadzor’s statement made no mention of the seven other Sovkhoznaya Street residents who were also hospitalized “and does not contain any conclusions about the existence of any connections to what happened in the building.” The retailer also promised to carry out a surprise audit of its pest control contractors and strengthen sanitary controls in its stores.

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Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart 


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