Another toxic gas incident at a crowded train station sent four people to the hospital in what police were investigating today as an attempted murder case.
Police and employees at Shinjuku Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest stations, found two plastic bags - one containing sodium cyanide and the other diluted sulfuric acid - aflame on the floor of a men’s room Friday evening.
The fire was doused before the fumes could combine to make the deadly gas hydrogen cyanide. But a station official said four station workers were briefly hospitalized for sore throats and other minor respiratory ailments.
The incident, which comes after 12 people were killed and 5,500 others were sickened by the nerve gas sarin on Tokyo’s subways on March 20, could have become a disaster.
Shinjuku is a popular shopping and entertainment district and the location of Tokyo’s City Hall. More than 1 million people pass daily through the station, which serves both subways and trains. The crowds were a bit lighter Friday because of the Golden Week holidays, which end Sunday.
When inhaled, hydrogen cyanide can kill within seconds. Kyodo News Service reported that the ingredients found in the restroom, if properly combined, could have produced enough of the gas to kill more than 10,000 people.
“This gas isn’t as poisonous as sarin, but it is still extremely deadly,” said Kanagawa University professor Keiichi Tsuneishi, an expert on poison gases.
Though Japan has been on edge since the March 20 subway killings and three subsequent copycat crimes that caused minor injuries, there were no reports of panic. Both bags were removed from the restroom without incident.
Service on one subway line was briefly halted and some shops closed their shutters briefly. Police cordoned off the restroom as they conducted further investigations early today, but the station otherwise returned to normal.
There have been no arrests directly related to the March 20 attack, although a doomsday cult, Aum Shinri Kyo, is suspected. That attack involved the poison gas sarin.
The cult has denied involvement in previous attacks.