An outskirt ofthe Siberian city of Irkutsk
An outskirt of the Siberian city of Irkutsk Getty Images

At least 41 people have died in a Siberia town after consuming an methanol-based bath lotion drunk as a cheap substitute for alcoholic beverages, authorities said.

A total of 57 people have also been hospitalised in the Irkutsk neighbourhood of Novo-Lenino after drinking Boyarishnik, a bath lotion that has been found to contain methanol, a toxic form of alcohol used among other things as an antifreeze, health officials told local media.

Two people alleged to be involved in distributing the substance as an alcohol substitute have been arrested, the Russian Investigative Committee said. The lotion was available to buy in hundreds of stores across Irkutsk, it added.

Those killed or hospitalised as a result of consuming the substance were aged between 35 and 50 and appear to have all been from the same area, said authorities.

"We found the bodies of six dead today – four in apartments and two in sewer pipes," Leninsky District Prosecutor Stanislav Zubovsky told Interfax news agency yesterday (18 December).

In recent years the use of cosmetic and medical products as cheap alcohol substitutes has increased in Russia, where the economy has been in recession since 2014.

Today, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for tighter restrictions on the availability of medical and cosmetic products containing alcohol and a possible ban of Boyarishnik.

"I want to draw the attention of all those present to a very difficult problem that exists with the sale of all kinds of alcohol-containing substances, and the tragedy that took place in Irkutsk," Medvedev said today at a meeting of the government.

"Persons who are engaged in the sale of such products, especially if it occurs semi-legally, must be held accountable," Medvedev said.