72 Russians Have Died After Drinking Scented Bath Oil That Contained Toxic Methanol

By Kelly Burch 12/22/16

People in the Siberian city of Irkutsk were reportedly drinking the bath oil because they couldn’t afford vodka. 

Russian bottle of bath oil.
Photo via YouTube

Over the last week, 72 people died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk after drinking scented bath oil that contained methanol, a toxic alcohol used in antifreeze. 

Many of the victims were poor residents between the ages of 35 and 50 who could not afford regular alcohol, according to CBS News. The label on the bath oil, one example of "surrogate alcohol" which is common in Russia, said the product contained ethyl alcohol. But instead it was packed with deadly levels of methanol.

A local prosecutor, Stanislav Zubovsky, said that 57 people were in the hospital over the weekend, and 2,000 bottles of the bath oil were seized. Seven suspects were detained, and police found an underground manufacturing plant believed to be responsible for producing the tainted liquid, according to ABC News

After the incident, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called for the government to put controls on the circulation of cheap liquids like perfume and soaps that contain alcohol. “This is a complete disgrace and clearly we should put an end to it,” Medvedev said in a cabinet meeting on Monday. “Such liquids should simply be banned.”

Russia has been in a recession since oil prices plummeted in 2015, and the economy is only just starting to recover

The mayor of Irkutsk declared a state of emergency, and city officials checked on homeless populations and posted warnings about drinking the cheap alcohol knock-offs. 

In January, a Russian consumer watchdog group reported that alcohol abuse contributed to the early deaths of 30% of Russian men and 15% of Russian women. Although drinking is an important part of Russian culture, sometimes alcohol is too expensive for everyday citizens. 

This is especially true in cities like Irkutsk, which is home to 620,000 people. The city was once home to booming industry, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union and lower demand for machinery, the city has been struggling with low economic prospects. 

The incident brought to mind the social and economic devastation that came after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.