IRKUTSK, Russia — At least 49 people in the Siberian city of Irkutsk have died from alcohol poisoning after drinking highly-alcoholic scented bath oil.
Consumption of bogus booze or cheap alcoholic beverage substitutes has long been a rampant problem in Russia’s regions where hard -core alcoholics are known to slug back perfume, after-shave, anti-freeze and even window cleaner to get their fix.
The problem has been exacerbated in recent years by a hard downswing in Russia’s economy stemming from international sanctions and a sharp drop in the price of oil.
“It is a terrible tragedy,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This type of problem is well known and the president has been informed. Measures must be taken.”
Officials in the city of 1.1 million have declared a state of emergency and have temporarily banned the sale of liquids containing alcohol that are not meant to be drunk by humans.
In all, 57 people have been hospitalized after drinking the methanol-based hawthorn berry concoction known as Boyaryshnika, and 49 have died.
Poisoning from drinking tainted hooch is a common occurrence in provincial Russia, but rarely are so many people affected at one time.
Officials with the agency regulating alcohol sales in Siberia said the bath oil bottles were labeled as containing ethyl alcohol and were marked with warnings that they were not meant to be consumed internally, but in face contained methyl alcohol and antifreeze.
Investigators raided more than 200 shops in the city and seized 2,000 bottles of the liquid, or 500 liters overall.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for tighter controls on the sale of products containing alcohol.
“Persons who are engaged in the sale of such products, especially if it occurs semi-legally, must be held accountable,” he said.