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Illegal Alcohol Poisons Dozens in Estonia - 2001-09-10

In Estonia, 22 people are dead and as many as 35 others have been hospitalized after drinking illegally produced alcohol. The mass poisoning is believed to be an accident, since one of the suspected distributors is among the victims.

The victims bought the alcohol over the weekend in refilled soda bottles from a bootleg distributor in the seaside town of Parnu in western Estonia. They began turning up sick at local hospitals on Sunday. Some patients have been removed by helicopter to hospitals in the Estonian capital, Talinn.

Doctors believe the batch contained poisonous methyl alcohol. They fear the death toll may rise as many of the hospitalized patients are in a coma, and victims continued to arrive at hospital on Monday.

Local police have arrested four suspects, following raids on the distributors. Police seized more than 30 liters of the illegal alcohol. It is being tested to see whether it contains methyl alcohol.

Up to half of all Estonians buy bootleg alcohol. The average monthly wage in the former Soviet state is $329, and bootleg liquor accounts for more than one third of the Estonian alcohol market.

However, poisonings are rare. The Estonian media report that the last case was two years ago when one person died. This is Estonia's worst case of alcohol poisoning.