Local officials in Irkutsk, Siberia in Russia declared a state of emergency after at least 49 people died from consuming a bath lotion as a "surrogate alcohol," the Associated Press reported Monday. Alexander Semyonov, a local prosecutor, said another eight people are hospitalized in serious condition, according to the AP.
The spike in overdoses has prompted Irkutsk to declare a state of emergency as officials go house-to-house in search of more possible victims. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman described the mass poisoning as a "terrible tragedy," CBS News and the AP reported. According to the AP, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said of the overdoses, "It's an outrage, and we need to put an end to this."
Officials say the bottles of Boyaryshnik (Hawthorn) seized during an arrest have clear markings that they aren't for internal use and that the bath lotion contains ethyl alcohol. However, the bottles seized contain methanol, a lethal ingredient in antifreeze. The AP and Russian news agency Tass reported police found an underground facility that made the lotion. Police have also seized 500 liters of Boyaryshnik from 100 shops in Irkutsk.
Poisonings caused by surrogate alcohol — including window cleaner and perfume — are a regular occurrence in Russia, but the scale of overdose deaths in Irkutsk is unprecedented. Experts estimate 12 million Russians regularly ingest alcohol surrogates, according to the Guardian.
Medvedev told a Cabinet meeting that authorities need to quickly ban such substances, saying their makers have been increasingly competing with legal alcohol producers.