Pursat provincial authorities said that a series of homemade rice wine poisonings have left eight people dead and 74 others in the hospital in Krakor district’s Ansar Chambak commune.
A local wine distributor who is alleged to be the producer of the tainted wine has been detained by police for questioning.
The authorities said that the poisoning incident began on May 28 in four villages in Ansar Chambak commune with the victims reportedly ranging in age from 30 to 60 years.
Khan Sambor, first deputy chief of Ansar Chambok commune, told The Post on June 2 that the poisoned wine was all distributed from the same source to vendor’s stalls in the villages.
Shortly after the victims drank the wine they reportedly felt weak and fatigued and had difficulty breathing.
“It first occurred in Sansor village. The people there who drank this rice wine became ill and had to go to the hospital. And then we quickly received reports that other people were having similar symptoms in three other villages,” he said.
As of June 2, authorities believe that at least eight people have died from drinking the tainted rice wine and at least 74 were made ill enough to require a visit to the hospital.
Some of those victims are now feeling better and have returned home, while others are still in critical condition and their recovery outlook remains uncertain.
He said that a 75-year-old wine distributor was detained for questioning at the provincial police station, but the definite source of the wine had yet to be determined.
“Our officers are still working on this case. We have also announced in all seven villages in the commune that received rice wine from this person to immediately stop distributing it in order to prevent additional poisonings,” he said.
Pursat provincial deputy governor Oeung Kimleang and Ansar Chambak commune police chief Thet Sovathy stated that they are working on a report regarding the incident and that further action will likely be announced.
The former chief of Ansar Chambak commune, Lanh Sithon, told The Post that the victims had been drinking rice wine they had bought from stalls nearby.
“As far as I know, two or three people had gathered to drink it and they bought it from different places, but they all got poisoned. This wine was distilled somewhere in the village, but I do not know the exact location,” Sithon said.
Department of Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Prevention (CCF) director-general Phan Oun told The Post on June 2 that CCF had sent its officials to the area to take samples of the wine for testing. If the result shows that it contains a poisonous substance, officials will build a case to send to the court to prosecute those responsible.
“We have called on the public to refrain from consuming rice wine or traditional medicinal alcohols that have no clear source several times now. Producers must use raw materials that are recognized as safe by the competent authorities. But these cases still happen and if we find that the wine was poisonous then those responsible will face legal action,” he said.
He called on the public to remain vigilant and on rice wine producers to exercise greater responsibility and follow the Ministry of Commerce’s guidelines for its distillation.
Oun added that consumers and producers can consult with his ministry at any time if they are unsure about what to do or if they suspect this problem could occur again.
In the month of May alone, two rice wine poisoning cases occurred that killed 22 people – with 12 deaths in Kandal and 10 in Kampot.
Officials said that the rice wine in those cases was poisonous because they were improperly distilled, which resulted in them having high levels of methanol.
Methanol is a poisonous industrial chemical also known as “wood alcohol,” and not safe for consumption like the regular alcohol found in beer or liquor, which is known as ethanol.