In the second recent incident of its kind, at least 100 people have reportedly died since Thursday after drinking bootleg alcohol that turned out to be toxic.
The incident took place in Assam state in northeastern India, the BBC reported. The Associated Press, citing Indian authorities, said the death toll had reached 150, in addition to roughly 200 hospitalizations. The BBC said at least 130 people had perished.
“Every 10 minutes we are getting reports of casualties from different places. So far about 200 people are in hospital with many of them critical,” Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Reuters.
Prior to the most recent deaths, about 100 people died earlier this month in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, also due to tainted alcohol.
Police said that in the Assam state incident, the bootleg booze included methyl alcohol, also known as wood alcohol, NPR reported.
Wood alcohol has many commercial and industrial uses, but is highly toxic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the substance “a poisonous substance that can be absorbed through the eyes, skin, lungs, and digestive system. Overexposure can cause death. Workers may be harmed by exposure to methyl alcohol.”
“We have arrested two people, but we are still investigating their role in the incident,” Partha Pratim Saikia, a senior police official told CNN.
“It is a case of alcohol poisoning, and it has affected a few tea gardens and villages surrounding them in this district,” Saikia said.
The cheap alcohol is often sold at roadside stands or markets.
Officials said that the victims of the poisoning were mainly workers at tea plantations in the region.
“I asked some of the patients why they consume liquor almost everyday and they said after a hard day’s work in the plantations they drink to relieve stress and tiredness,” Sarma told Reuters.
“The people came to the hospital with severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness,” Dr. Ratul Bordoloi, joint director of Golaghat’s health department, told the AFP news agency.
The BBC quoted one worker whose name was not used to explain the effects of the alcohol.
“I had bought half a liter of wine and drank it before eating,” the worker said. “Initially, everything was normal, but after some time my head started hurting.”
“The headache grew so much that I could not eat or sleep,” the worker added.
CORRECTION, Feb. 25, 2019: The image originally associated with this article was of bottles of name-brand liquors behind a bar. A reader pointed out that this image could be considered misleading, as the contaminated alcohol that led to the reported deaths was illicit “bootleg” alcohol.
We therefore replaced the image with an AP file photo showing an “illicit booze shop” being burned by villagers after a similar incident in 2011. We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding the original image may have caused.
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