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Tainted Alcohol in Estonia Kills 22

September 11, 2001

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) _ Liquor tainted with highly toxic methyl alcohol has killed 22 people and sickened at least 36 others in one of Estonia’s worst cases of alcohol poisoning, officials said Monday.

``When the first people started coming to the hospital Sunday morning, we had no idea the number of deaths would keep growing like this,″ police spokesman Indrek Raudjalg said.

Police said the tainted alcohol was not sold in licensed stores and investigators were trying to determine where the victims purchased it. Police raided several illegal distilleries and four people were detained for questioning, but nobody has been charged.

The latest deaths occurred Monday, though most victims consumed the tainted alcohol Saturday and Sunday in Parnu, a seaside town of 50,000 some 75 miles south of the capital, Tallinn, Raudjalg said.

Warnings were issued by radio and television for people to avoid drinking alcohol out of suspicious looking bottles, and the city government set up a crisis center.

Steep rises in alcohol costs after this Baltic country of 1.4 million people cast off communism a decade ago have driven many Estonians, with an average monthly salary of about $300, to opt for illegal varieties.

Methyl alcohol is an ingredient in antifreeze, formaldehyde and many industrial solvents.

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