Russian authorities have declared a state of emergency over a mass poisoning in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, after scores of people tried to get drunk on toxic bath oil. Several people were detained over the incident.
At least 48 people died after ingesting the hawthorn-scented oil, and the death toll is likely to rise, officials in Irkutsk said on Monday.
The authorities were continuing their door-to-door survey of "potential consumers" of the beverage surrogate, local prosecutor Stanislav Zubovsky told the Interfax news agency.
Officials also seized more than 2,000 liters (528 US gallons) of the bath oil and found an "illegal" manufacturing site for the chemical. The two owners were detained along with five people suspected of distributing the bath oil.
A state of emergency has been declared in the city.
Drinking cheap perfumes, face toners and similar high-alcohol chemicals is not uncommon among the poorest segments of the Russian population, where alcohol addiction is rampant. In some cases, these products are made especially for the purpose of replacing alcoholic beverages and are sold in vending machines. Beauty products and home-made spirits are regulated less strictly than proper beverages, allowing them to be manufactured and distributed legally.
The bath oil sold in Irkutsk, a city of some 600,000 people near Lake Baikal, contained toxic methanol. The product was sold with warning labels printed on the bottle, officials said. Still, it was consumed by at least 57 people, including both men and women aged 35 to 50.
Commenting on the mass poisoning, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vowed that the federal government would crackdown on the illegal alcohol trade.
He described the current situation as a "complete disgrace."
"We cannot just accept this anymore," Medvedev said. "All available measures need to be taken to either seize such products and take them out of retail, or put the trade under full control," he added.
dj/tj (AFP, Reuters, Interfax)