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Toxic alcohol

Old 24th Feb 2019, 16:10
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Toxic alcohol

We've all heard about the deaths in India from toxic alcohol. Can someone tell me how you get bad alcohol, presumably methanol. Is it part of the distillation process gone wrong or did they add something to the hooch that made it poisonous?
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Old 24th Feb 2019, 16:25
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It is caused by not taking care during the distilling process, resulting in methyl alcohol instead of ethyl. I don't remember the exact details now but the test for one vs the other was to light it and the "good" one burned with a blue flame. In fact, the expats at Aramco in the 70s produced a news sheet named the Blue Flame and this was intended to make sure nobody who wasn't producing the non-alcohol that didn't exist in Saudi Arabia didn't get it wrong. In Kuwait, another non-alcohol country, we used to buy pure ethanol, usually produced by a chemical company in the UK. This was up to 99.8% pure. Good stuff. You had to produce a note on your company's letterhead to show a reason why you needed it. We "needed" it for cleaning electronic components, circuit boards etc. An American friend of mine actually really did need the stuff for checking the quality of the asphalt in bridge decks he was laying (the alcohol dissolved the bitumen, leaving the aggregate behind so a calculation could be made). He just didn't need it all for that..
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Old 24th Feb 2019, 17:14
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Methanol is produced when alcohol is fermented using naturally accurring yeasts, rather than a cultured, known yeast. At the levels of alcohol produced in home made wines and beers the level is low enough not to be a problem, but distillation increases the concentration to dangerous levels. Unlike ethanol, methanol is metabolised to formic acid in the body which causes hypoxia at the cellular level, damaging to the optic nerve and various organs.

Methanol production in traditionally fermented beverages can be linked to the activities of pectinase producing yeast, fungi and bacteria. This study assessed some traditional fermented beverages and found that some beverages are prone to methanol contamination including cachaca, cholai, agave, arak, plum and grape wines.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5028366/

Safe Testing

Testing alcohol by scent or by flame are neither guaranteed nor safe methods, however, to test for the presence of methanol more effectively, you can apply sodium dichromate to a sample of the beverage. To do so, mix 8 mL of a sodium dichromate solution with 4 mL of sulfuric acid. Swirl gently to mix, then add 10 drops of the mixed solution to a test tube or other small container containing the alcohol. Swirl this container gently a few times, then waft the air from the mouth of the container towards your nose by fanning the air toward you with a hand, with the container placed roughly 8-12 inches from your face. Take note of the scent: If it is pungent and irritating, methanol is present in the alcohol. If the scent is dominating and fruity, only ethanol is present, and the beverage is safe.
https://sciencing.com/test-alcohol-m...l-8714279.html


Last edited by Checkboard; 24th Feb 2019 at 21:42.
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Old 24th Feb 2019, 17:54
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not tea.
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Old 24th Feb 2019, 21:22
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That's the same sort of thing as the Brits going on and on about Brexit and never doing anything about it.
Both examples are bad for the young no matter what the outcome.
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 00:40
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What I don't get is why they keep on and on and on and on and on doing this, despite regular large numbers of deaths.
I am ever reminded of this incident - Sukhoi assembly - engineers die from methanol poisoning

This sticks in my mind because of the further reports of additional personnel from the assembly group going out a few days later and being hospitalised for the same reason.
Fortunately not fatal with the latter group.

But honestly, you'd think they might be at least a little cautious.
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 08:10
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Some of the stuff that goes into illicit booze sold on street corners by fly by night traders is unbelievable, battery acid, paint thinner and cleaning solutions have all been used.

Prison hooch is a better bet as the ingredients are more limited and the supplier won't want to find himself confronted in the showers by dissatisfied customers.

Moonshine and poteen are pure and safe in comparison, especially if made by an old pro with a reputation to protect.
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 09:16
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Torajan belok is a good one to avoid, especially if you're fond of your eyesight.

It is interesting that the treatment for methanol poisoning seems to include intravenous injection of ethyl alcohol.

Methanol and eyesight
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 10:45
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Originally Posted by WingNut60 View Post
Torajan belok is a good one to avoid, especially if you're fond of your eyesight.

It is interesting that the treatment for methanol poisoning seems to include intravenous injection of ethyl alcohol.

Methanol and eyesight
In them good, old, pre-H&S days at sea, we used methanol to clean electrical and mechanical parts. A few deaths among thirsty souls who either decided to give it a try, or mistook it for ethanol.
Some clever guys, having had too many days ashore, with maybe to much alcohol, found the first dry days at sea too hard and filled with abstinence. Solution? See the Chief Officer, tell him you accidently drank some methanol, and he would serve you alcohol until you could see a doc at the end of the voyage.
Ethanol was quickly banned.
Per
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 11:46
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Beware of what you drink on holiday!


https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/3498...day-to-greece/
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 12:29
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Is it part of the distillation process gone wrong or did they add something to the hooch that made it poisonous?
Years ago, while working in the Instrument Calibration Lab at RAF Changi, we had a large Jar of Isopropyl Alcohol used for cleaning purposes. One day I walked into the cleaning bay and came upon our ethnic Indian cleaner pouring some into a fruit juice bottle. I asked him what he wanted it for and he said they were having a celebration that weekend and he wanted to liven up the punch. I told him that Isopropyl Alcohol would kill people if they drank it and asked him to pour his cache down the sink, which he did. After that incident we kept the stuff under lock and key in the main workshop.

I should add that the Isopropyl Alcohol fumes smell just like very strong vodka, which is probably why our Indian friend mistook it as fit for drinking.
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 12:50
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and an equally common cause of bad hooch is when tolerable alcohol is diluted (fortified) on purpose with the much cheaper bad stuff bought as cleaning supplies
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 15:57
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Aren't some of the higher alcohols somewhat poisonous, too?
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Old 25th Feb 2019, 16:29
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Originally Posted by radeng View Post
Aren't some of the higher alcohols somewhat poisonous, too?
All the alcohols are toxic to some degree, it's just that we call being poisoned by ethanol being drunk, so it's a more or less socially acceptable toxin, even though it kills a large number of people every year.

I think the worst culprits are methanol and the glycols, plus, perhaps isopropanol. Not sure about the rest, though. We probably get to hear about methanol and glycol poisoning more than most, perhaps, because methanol is so toxic that small amounts can kill or cause serious injury, and ethylene glycol tastes sweet, so can be inadvertently consumed without noticing (I seem to remember that it was used to sweeten some dodgy wine years ago and caused a lot of people to become ill).

There's a fair bit of mythology about methanol being an easy contaminant in illegally distilled liquor, as if the base ale is brewed properly then there should be very little methanol in it. Bad batches of poitín were (are) very rare, not so much because of the skill of the person running the still, but because the traditional base ale had virtually no methanol in it to start with. The risk of getting methanol into a distilled spirit really comes from using an alcoholic base that naturally contains methanol, and most yeasts used to ferment sugars aren't very tolerant of methanol and don't produce it when they digest sugars. If anyone wishes to make moonshine (near enough pure ethanol) then sticking to using brewers yeast and a refined sugar base should ensure that there's very little, if any, methanol present in the base ale, which in turn means there will be very little, if any, methanol in the distillate. The stuff will also be pretty rough to consume, and nothing like any of the distilled beverages we may be familiar with. When young I attended a party where a winchester of lab-grade ethanol had been added to a bowl of punch. No one had a good time getting drunk, as everyone that drank the stuff just passed out on the floor within ten minutes or so of drinking it...
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 00:34
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Bali is a popular tourist spot for Australians, frequently hear of folks suffering, and dying, from methanol laced drinks being served at bars. Methanol is cheap, hence the substitution.
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 03:35
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Koh Samui as well with the full moon parties.
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 04:00
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When distilling alcohol it is customary to discard the first few mL's of distillate based on the initial boiling point of the brew in order to remove methanol present, if any. i.e. Methanol has a lower boiling point than ethanol, so any methanol present would evaporate first. I believe these poisoning cases occur when methanol has been ignorantly added to a batch to stretch the volume for sale.

On another note, when I was doing some work in East Timor I nabbed some locals dipping 200 L drums of chemicals with a stick and licking it to "see what it was". They didn't need a Chemist
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 11:23
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Boiling Poin of methanol:
148.3° F (64.7º C ) at 760 mm Hg.


Boiling Point of ethanol
173.3° F (78.2 °C) at 760 mm Hg






That's quite a difference.
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 12:17
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Originally Posted by uffington sb View Post
Beware of what you drink on holiday!


https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/3498...day-to-greece/
Poor girl. I see no mention of prosecutions, mind you it is Greece.

Are Thomson's that organised the pub crawl (and holiday) that resulted in this liable in any way? No comment from them at all in the article.
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Old 26th Feb 2019, 13:29
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Originally Posted by Checkboard View Post
Boiling Poin of methanol:
148.3° F (64.7º C ) at 760 mm Hg.


Boiling Point of ethanol

173.3° F (78.2 °C) at 760 mm Hg








That's quite a difference.
Exactly. That's why you would keep an eye on the initial boiling point of the distillation and discard anything that boils over before 78 C, cos it ain't ethanol...
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