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1 August 2022

How does methanol affect the human body?


How does methanol affect the human body?

Nineteen people in Costa Rica have died after consuming alcohol tainted with harmful levels of methanol.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Health has confirmed that out of these fatalities, 14 were men and five were women, all were between the ages of 32 and 72, and occurred across various cities in Costa Rica. The U.S. Department of State confirmed that no U.S. citizen's illness or death has been related to the consumption of adulterated alcohol in Costa Rica. All victims identified so far have been Costa Rican, and did not consume the alcohol at hotels.

The health ministry has confiscated about 30,000 containers of alcohol labeled as Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Star Welsh and Aguardiente Molotov, after identifying toxic levels of methanol in them. They have advised the general public to avoid consuming these alcoholic beverages until further investigations are completed and the sources of counterfeit products have been found.

Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada tweeted out last Friday that he has instructed authorities to continue gathering data in order to identify the sources responsible for these deaths.

While Costa Rica is now making headlines, in recent years there have been numerous outbreaks related to tainted alcohol in Cambodia, Czech Republic and Ecuador, among other countries. Some outbreaks have affected as many as 800 victims with mortality rates greater than 30%, according to the World Health Organization. In India, 154 people died and over 200 were hospitalized this year alone after drinking unregulated moonshine.

Methanol poisoning typically occurs due to the consumption of “adulterated counterfeit or informally produced spirit drinks," according to the World Health Organization.

Here’s what you need to know about tainted alcohol and how to avoid being a victim of methanol poisoning.

Methanol is a widely available chemical that is used in everyday household products.

Methanol, otherwise known as methyl alcohol, has many industrial applications and can be found in household items such as varnishes, antifreeze, and windscreen wash. Methanol is also found in things we consume -- trace amounts are found naturally in fruit juices, fermented alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at non-toxic levels.

Low concentrations of naturally present methanol are not harmful, but higher concentrations may be toxic.

Since methanol is a product of fermentation, low levels of methanol are detected in all beer and spirits, but these low concentrations are not toxic when consumed. Harm can be incurred when distillation processes are ill managed, or more commonly, methanol is deliberately added to alcoholic beverages and methanol levels exceed 10-220 mg/L. When ingested, the body metabolizes methanol into formaldehyde and formic acid, which in large amounts are toxic and even fatal. Methanol levels in the blood exceeding approximately 500 mg/L is toxic if left untreated.

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