On Monday, at least 48 people have been reported dead in the Siberian city of Irkutsk after consuming cheap "surrogate" alcohol consisting of a myriad of nasty liquids, including medical ethanol, window cleaner and perfume. Authorities estimate that up to 12 million Russians regularly ingest these types of fake liquors.
The Guardian reports:
The deaths in Irkutsk appear to have been caused by a counterfeit batch of Boyaryshnik, a concentrated liquid sold as a relaxant to add to bathwater but widely known as a cheap alcohol substitute. It cost a maximum of 40 roubles (£0.52) per bottle, making it cheaper than even the lowest-cost vodka, and was even put on sale in public vending machines earlier this year.
According to the label, Boyaryshnik contains 93% ethanol, hawthorn extract and lemon oils but tests on the Irkutsk consignment suggested it also contained methanol, an ingredient in antifreeze. Police said they had discovered an underground workshop in the city where bottles of fake Boyaryshnik were being produced, along with counterfeit bottles of well-known vodka brands.
After authorities seized over 2 tons of the poison drink from shops and kiosks around the city, the mayor of Irkutsk declared a state of emergency on Monday afternoon, placing a temporary ban on the sale of all liquids containing alcohol that are not specifically designed for casual consumption.
According to opposition politician Alexei Navalny, Boyaryshnik is "killing more people than terrorist acts did in the whole history of Russia." The reason so many have resorted to drinking the surrogates, he said, is the widespread poverty that plagues the country.
Navalny's assessment was echoed by Russian toxicology expert Oleg Kuznetsov. "People are poorer, especially those who drink a lot, but the need for alcohol remains," said Kuznetsov. "Before, someone with alcohol dependency would go to the shop and buy the cheapest vodka, now he’ll go and buy something different like window cleaner."
The 2,000 bottles seized from local stores were being sold for around a dollar a bottle, as compared to the $3 dollars a bottle for a half-liter of vodka.
Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev has proposed governmental controls on the circulation of cheap perfumes and other liquids containing alcohol, calling the situation "a complete disgrace."
"Cearly we should put an end to it," said Medvedev. "Such liquids should simply be banned."
Russia's consumer watchdog group says that alcohol abuse was the main cause of premature death before the age of 55 of 30 percent of men and 15 percent of women in the country. The survey found that the average adult there drinks "20 liters of vodka a year."