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Dozens Dead In Siberia After Drinking Body Lotion; Seven Arrested

  • RFE/RL

Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are frequent in Russia, where people sometimes drink substances that contain alcohol and are cheaper than alcoholic beverages (file photo).

The mayor of the Siberian city of Irkutsk has declared a state of emergency as the death toll mounts after dozens of people drank scented bath lotion containing methyl alcohol, or methanol.

It was one of the deadliest mass poisonings in years in Russia, where people hard up for cash sometimes drink beauty or cleaning products that contain alcohol and are cheaper than store-bought vodka or other beverages.

The Kremlin called the deaths "a terrible tragedy."

The federal Investigative Committee said on December 19 that 25 people died after they drinking the liquid, called Boyaryshnik (Hawthorn), despite a warning on the label saying it cannot be consumed internally.

A local prosecutor said later that the death toll had risen to 48 as law enforcement authorities found dead bodies in apartments and sewer or heating grates where homeless people sometimes seek shelter.

Irkutsk Mayor Dmitry Berdnikov announced a state of emergency in the city 4,200 kilometers east of Moscow and banned retail sales of all liquids that contain alcohol but are not intended for internal consumption.

Authorities said most of the victims were 35 to 50 years old and lived in Novo-Lenino, a district on the outskirts of Irkutsk.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the poisonings "a terrible tragedy that requires close attention," and said that President Vladimir Putin had been informed.

"Measures must be taken," Peskov said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Boyaryshnik and similar liquids containing alcohol should be removed from shop shelves or even banned, but he did not appear to have issued a formal order for either of those measures.

The Investigative Committee said the bath lotion contained methanol, which can be fatal if consumed internally, instead of regular alcohol, or ethanol.

It said seven people suspected of selling the lotion had been detained, and more than 2,000 containers containing over 500 liters of the lotion confiscated.

'Greatest National Threat'

The Reuters news agency quoted alcohol market expert Vadim Drobiz as saying that up to 12 million Russians, or about one-12th of the population, drink cheap surrogate alcohol.

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who announced last week that he plans to run for president in 2018, said that the case had attracted attention because so many deaths occurred in a small area in a short period of time, but that hundreds of people die of similar causes every day.

"The problem...for Russia and its national security is roughly a thousand times more important than Syria, Aleppo, Ukraine and [U.S. President-elect Donald] Trump put together," said Navalny, who blamed poverty and corruption for the sale of poisonous surrogate alcohol.

He said such substances "kill more people [every year] than have been killed in terrorist attacks in Russia's entire history."

With reporting by Reuters, RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS
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