AT LEAST 17 people have been confirmed dead in Kampong Cham province’s Oraing Ov district after drinking rice wine that health officials now believe contained an “abnormally high” concentration of methanol.
Deputy district governor Nuon Song said the death toll was expected to rise, as three villagers receiving treatment yesterday were unlikely to
He added that the fatalities had occurred in three separate communes – 10 died in Preah Theat commune, four in Prek Tapoak commune and three in Mean commune.
District police chief Keo Seanghorn said police had detained wine seller Krin Reoun, 63, and confiscated a litre of rice wine from each commune.
“The suspect told us that he has been in the wine business for more than 20 years,” Keo Seanghorn said. “He said if he followed normal procedure, he did not believe the wine could cause fatalities.”
He said the suspect believed something might have gone wrong because villagers had mixed the wine in Black Panther beers. Keo Sanghorn said he would ask for permission from provincial police officials to release the suspect.
On Monday, provincial police chief Nuon Samin said officials suspected the rice wine might have been contaminated with pesticides, and speculated that the person who purchased it “may have incorrectly poured the wine into a nearby pesticide bottle”.
But Keo Narith, the director of the provincial hospital, said investigations had confirmed that the rice wine was contaminated with methanol.
“We have since discovered that the methanol mix-up rate is abnormally high in the wine,” he said.
Methanol, also known as wood alcohol as it is often distilled from wood, is a simple form of alcohol and is dangerous to humans if ingested, as it can cause blood circulation problems and death.
“Despite the fact that they live far from each other, we can conclude that they died from drinking the wine because the wine seller had mobilised his business,” he said. “Thus, they may have bought wine from the same seller, and brought it to their own villages to drink.”
Provincial police chief Nuon Samin could not be reached for comment yesterday.