The New Year public holidays are over but doctors and law enforcement officials are still dealing with a methanol poisoning outbreak that marred the celebrations.
It is difficult to distinguish methyl alcohol (methanol) which is a deadly poison from ethyl alcohol by its smell or taste. Drinking 80 to 150 milliliters of methyl alcohol can cause death.
First Days of New Year
The Department of the Investigative Committee (IC) of the Tyumen Region initiated a criminal case over methanol poisoning of nine people.
The IC said that «starting January 3, 2022, several persons sold unlicensed alcoholic beverages (containing methyl alcohol which is dangerous to life and health) with the Rodniki Sibiri vodka label in retail outlets on Stavropolskaya and Rizhskaya streets in Tyumen."
Four suspects, aged from 29 to 50, were detained. If found guilty, they will face up to 10 years in prison.
Eight people died of poisoning in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District. "The surrogate was sold between January 6 and 8, 2022 in 0.5-liter glass containers under the name Tsarskaya Okhota with a picture of Peter the Great on the label. At present, 12 cases of poisoning have been recorded, 8 of which were fatal," the Kondinsky district administration press service said.
A 55-year-old man admitted to a Moscow hospital with toxic alcoholic shock at 9 p.m. on January 1died six and a half hours later. An inspection of his apartment found empty bottles that had contained tainted vodka.
On January 2, a man's body bearing no signs of violence was found an apartment in Balashikha, Moscow region. His friend was in a state of unconsciousness in the same room. He was taken to hospital. Investigators examined the scene and seized a canister of alcohol.
A man and a woman died of poisoning in the urban district of Reutov. During the examination of their apartment, the investigators found and seized bottles of alcohol. The victims had bought lethal liquid in the same store in Balashikha.
Severe October 2021
Last October, 35 people out died after drinking methyl alcohol in the Orenburg region and another 29 suffered severe poisoning. Pure methanol was found in the victims’ bodies. In some cases, its concentration in the body was 3-5 times higher than the lethal dose. Those who were poisoned had similar symptoms such as loss of vision, numbness in the legs, severe intestinal pain, and coma.
The investigators said that surrogate alcohol had come from an Orsk warehouse where 1,279 unlabeled half-liter bottles of alcoholic beverages were seized.
Fourteen criminal cases were pooled into one. Seventeen people were detained, 15 of them were taken into custody, one was placed under house arrest and one was given a restraining order which banned certain actions.
Reports on October 21 said that the Sverdlovsk Region methanol poisoning death toll had reached 24. The autopsies confirmed the cause of death.
The police detained the suspects in the production and sale of the surrogate. The criminal case was initiated under Article 238 Part 3 on the sale of products that do not meet consumer safety requirements, which caused the death of two or more persons. This crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Deadly Bath Product
76 people died of poisoning with the alcohol-containing bathing agent Boyaryshnik in Irkutsk on December 19, 2016. A total of 123 people suffered in Russia’s largest methanol poisoning outbreak.
The people admitted to hospitals were of different social statuses. For example, a kindergarten teacher and a nurse were among them.
"Most of the victims are ordinary workers who don't earn much, such as welders, auto mechanics, movers, and janitors. There are also former convicts among them who simply cannot find a well-paid job because of a criminal record," said Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent Alyona Chichigina.
"I was already tipsy but wanted more. The taste was unpleasant, but I added some water and drank it up," said Andrei Kolesnikov, a 43-year-old locksmith. He got lucky as he mixed different types of alcohol by drinking beer and several cocktails that night (ethanol helps with methanol poisoning). In addition to his own three children, Kolesnikov has two grandchildren in his care. So, he "mustn't die," he said.
Overall, eight children were orphaned. Seven of them lost both parents in Boyaryshnik poisoning, and one child lost his mother.
Some of the city residents were rushed to hospitals with methyl alcohol poisoning after drinking Wheat, Finnish, and White Birch vodka brands. According to the patients, they only drank "one or two shots." However, Irkutsk district Novo-Lenino residents said people had got poisoned not only with Boyaryshnik but also with vodka and Martini.
Between February 2018 and January 2020, five people were found guilty of distributing the surrogate. The owner of a retail pavilion, a seller, and three other Irkutsk residents were sentenced to 2.5 to three years in a general regime penal colony.
The Leninsky District Court of Irkutsk found seven more people guilty of producing and selling adulterated Boyaryshnik in August 2020. They purchased about 160 liters of methyl alcohol, prepared homemade Boyaryshnik, and sold it in Irkutsk from November to December 2016. The defendants were sentenced to 7 to 10 years in a general regime penitentiary.
The largest case of surrogate alcohol poisoning in the world
Before the 2016 events in Irkutsk, the largest case of surrogate alcohol poisoning in terms of the number of victims was recorded on September 9-10, 2001 in the Estonian town of Pärnu. Shortly before the tragedy, workers at the local Baltfet plant stole 20 canisters of methyl alcohol from the plant and poured them into vodka bottles with expensive labels. As a result of the poisoning, 68 people died and 43 became disabled. Nineteen people were found guilty of this crime.