The national health department in Costa Rica has issued a nationwide alert after at least 19 people died after ingesting alcohol tainted with methanol, a synthetic chemical used in anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid.
In a press release, the Ministry of Health said that 14 men and five women have died after consuming tainted alcohol manufactured by such brands as Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, and Aguardiente Estrella. All of these brands are registered with the Ministry of Health, which has led the government to suspect that “counterfeit products of these brands” may be responsible for the recent deaths, the Ministry said in a statement.
The Ministry of Health said that while there have been reports of tainted alcohol-related deaths in various cities in Costa Rica, the majority were in San Jose, the capital of the country and its largest city. The government has confiscated nearly 30,000 bottles of the affected brands so far.
The alcohol contained toxic levels of methanol, a synthetic chemical that is used in the production of anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid. Even small amounts of methanol can be toxic when ingested by humans, and can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases death.
As a spokesperson for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) previously told Rolling Stone, methanol is not infrequently used in the production of counterfeit alcohol, or alcohol that is made by non-regulated booze suppliers that is packaged to resemble a legitimate brand. Counterfeit alcohol has been linked to deaths in countries such as the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and Mexico; earlier this year, nearly 125 deaths in India were linked to counterfeit alcohol containing methanol.
Following a recent spate of U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, some have speculated that counterfeit alcohol may have played a role. In response to such concerns, the FBI is currently conducting a toxicology investigation into three of the tourist deaths, and the country’s Ministry of Tourism recently said that it would start conducting quarterly rather than semi-annual food and beverage inspections at hotels. The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, one of the hotel chains linked to the tourist deaths, told Rolling Stone that it would remove liquor dispensers from guests’ rooms and that it had contracted a third-party testing lab “to provide inspections and laboratory testing of all food and beverage products and public spaces.”
The Overseas Security Advisory Council recommends that tourists avoid ingesting home-brewed alcohol while traveling and instead stick to recognizable brands. The guidelines also suggest tourists avoid buying low-priced alcohol, as it may be counterfeit booze packaged to resemble a legitimate brand.