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Death toll rises in Russian bath lotion drinking case

Irkutsk, Russia, in a July 2010 picture.

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MOSCOW -- Russian health officials say at least 58 people have died in a Siberian city from methanol poisoning after consuming counterfeit bath lotion.

The death toll in Irkutsk, Russia’s six-largest city with a population of 1.1 million, has been rising since Sunday.

The local health department said Tuesday that 58 have died of poisoning with deadly methanol contained in the lotion, and nearly 40 others remain hospitalized.

Bottles with the lotion carried warnings that they weren’t for internal use, but labels said the product contained ethyl alcohol rather than deadly methanol. 

CBS News’ Svetlana Berdnikova reported that the bath lotion, called Boyaryshnik (Hawthorn), was found to have poisoned the residents of one neighborhood, Novo-Lenino. While the injured and dead appear to be residents of the same area, they were not drinking alcohol together. Officials described the victims as socially disadvantaged people aged 35 to 50, including several women.  

Poisonings caused by cheap surrogate alcohol are a regular occurrence in Russia, but the Irkutsk case is unprecedented in its scale. The sales of lotions and tinctures containing alcohol have risen in recent years as Russia’s economy has faltered. 

Two suspects believed to be directly involved in the distribution of the surrogate alcohol have been detained, officials said.

There have been demands for the state to take control of the sale of alcohol-containing cosmetics and medicines many times across the years, but so far no effective measures have been taken.