Seven people have been arrested after 48 people died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk when they drank scented bath oils as a replacement for alcohol, Russian authorities say. Several other people are reported to be in a serious condition.
Russia's Investigative Committee said the product, called Boyaryshnik (Hawthorn), was found to contain methanol, a toxin found in antifreeze. Despite warnings not to consume it, people drank it as if it were alcohol. They added that the product has now been removed from shops.
It has been reported that two people were detained on suspicion of distributing the toxic liquid, and a further five arrests were made in connection with making the product.
A state of emergency has been declared in Irkutsk. Police say they have discovered a workshop where the bath oil was being produced alongside counterfeit alcohol.
Russian media has reported that the victims were mainly poor people aged between 35 and 50.
"According to our latest data, 41 of 57 people who were hospitalized after drinking the liquid have died," Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement. "More than 2,000 units of the liquid have been confiscated with an overall volume of 500 litres."
The victims were not believed to have been drinking together and a local official told the Tass news agency that the liquid came in bottles whose labels said the content was 93% spirit.
It is estimated that up to 12 million Russians drink perfume, aftershave, anti-freeze and window cleaner as cheap replacements for alcohol.
"It is a terrible tragedy," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters. "This type of problem is well known and the president has been informed. Measures must be taken."
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said to a cabinet meeting, according to the BBC, that this product needed to be banned quickly. "It's an outrage, and we need to put an end to this," he said.