• Recently as many as 22 people had died after consuming spurious liquor in the Chengalpattu and Villupuram districts of Tamil Nadu.


  • Spurious liquor is characterised by the liquid mixture containing methanol as well.
  • The police have thus far determined that the spurious liquor in both the Chengalpattu and Villupuram incidents arose from the same source.
  • The arrack sellers had purchased industrial ­grade methanol from factories and sold it to the victims.

  • In many older cases, such liquor is typically a home­made liquor, such as arrack, to which methanol was added to strengthen the intoxicating effects (in colloquial parlance, its kick) and/or to increase its bulk volume.
  • The Food Safety and Standards (Alcoholic Beverages) Regulations 2018 stipulate the maximum permissible quantity of methanol in different liquors.
  • These values span a wide range, including “absent” in coconut fenny, 50 grams per 100 litres in country liquor, and 300 grams per 100 litres in pot­distilled spirits.


  • The methanol molecule (CH3OH) consists of one carbon atom bonded with three hydrogen atoms and one hydroxyl group.
  • Schedule I of the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules 1989 includes methanol.
  • The Indian Standard IS 517 applies to how the quality of methanol is to be ascertained, and together with the Tamil Nadu Denatured Spirit, Methyl Alcohol, and Varnish (French Polish) Rules 1959, what signage, methanol packaging should carry.
  • The most common way to produce methanol is to combine carbon monoxide and hydrogen in the presence of copper and zinc oxides as catalysts at 50­-100 atm of pressure and 250°C.
  • In the pre­industrial era, going back to ancient Egypt, people also made methanol (together with several other byproducts) by heating wood to a very high temperature.
  • Methanol has several industrial applications, including as a precursor to acetic acid, formaldehyde, and aromatic
  • It is also used as a solvent and as antifreeze.
  • In Tamil Nadu, the manufacture, export, import, storage, and sale of methanol requires licences under the 1959 Rules.


  • The deadliness of spurious liquor arises from methanol.
  • In every hooch tragedy in the history of India — and of the world since 1945 — the poison has been methanol.
  • The human body contains infinitesimal quantities of methanol (4.5 ppm in the breath of healthy individuals, per a 2006 study) as a result of eating some fruits.
  • But even for an adult, more than 0.1 ml of pure methanol per kilogram of body­weight can be devastating.
  • Once ingested, methanol is metabolised in the liver by ADH enzymes to form formaldehyde (H­CHO).
  • Then ALDH enzymes convert formaldehyde to formic acid (HCOOH).

  • The accumulation of formic acid over time leads to a baneful condition called metabolic acidosis.
  • Acidosis can lead to acidemia, a condition wherein the blood’s pH drops below its normal value of 7.35, becoming increasingly acidic.
  • The blood’s pH is normally maintained by a balance between an acid, like carbon dioxide, and a base, like the bicarbonate ion (HCO3–).
  • As methanol is metabolised, the concentration of the bicarbonate ion drops, leading to the acid gaining the upper hand.
  • Formic acid also interferes with an enzyme called cytochrome oxidase, which in turn disrupts cells’ ability to use oxygen and leads to the build­up of lactic acid, contributing to acidosis.
  • A serious condition that may result in long­term or irreversible visual impairment or even blindness [due to] damage and loss of function of the optic nerve and retina.

  • Methanol ­poisoning can also cause cerebral edema, haemorrhage, and death.


  • There are two immediate ways to treat methanol poisoning.
  • One is to administer ethanol (of a pharmaceutical grade, by healthcare workers). This may sound counter ­intuitive but ethanol competes very well with methanol for the ADH enzymes.
  • As a result, the methanol is kept from being metabolised to formaldehyde.
  • The other option is to administer an antidote called fomepizole, which has a similar mechanism — it slows the action of the ADH enzymes, causing the body to produce formaldehyde at a rate that the body can quickly excrete, preventing the deadlier effects from kicking in.

  • Both courses of action are limited by the availability of their characteristic compounds.
  • Fomepizole is expensive whereas pharmaceutical-­grade ethanol needs to be administered under supervision.
  • Healthcare workers may also have the individual undertake a dialysis to remove methanol and formic acid salts from the blood, and mitigate damage to the kidneys and retina.
  • They may also administer folinic acid, which encourages the formic acid to break up into carbon dioxide and water.
  • Both fomepizole and folinic acid are in the WHO’s list of essential medicines.
  • The formic acid would have begun accumulating in dangerous amounts around 18­24 hours after ingestion, affecting the optic nerve, kidneys, the heart, and the brain.
  • Ophthalmic effects have been observed in 50% of those who have consumed methanol, and they become apparent within 24 hours.
  • If the individual consumed ethanol along with the methanol, the damage may not be evident until after a few days, further delaying treatment and increasing mortality.


  • The goal of an effective and sustainable alcohol policy can only be achieved through coordinated action between multiple stakeholders, such as women’s groups and vendors.
  • The rise of hooch tragedies should set alarm bells ringing about the inability of the administration in curbing the black market of liquor production and consumption.



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