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Disinfectant Linked to Deaths

May 21, 1985

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ Two people have died recently after drinking Lysol disinfectant, and the substance is being increasingly abused on Indian reservations because it is a relatively inexpensive source of alcohol, officials say.

Harvey Knull, a professor at the University of North Dakota, told the state Indian Affairs Commission Monday that he wants to conduct a five-year study of the problem.

Lysol is 79 percent alcohol, an overdose of which is probably responsible for the deaths at the Fort Berthold Reservation, Knull said.

But Knull said that he wants to determine how other chemicals in the disinfectant, including its antiseptic and antifungal agents, react in the body.

The study would determine the specific dangers to humans, he said. An ingredient identified as poisonous perhaps could be replaced with ″a chemical that tastes bad but isn’t as toxic,″ Knull said.

He asked the commission for support in seeking funds for a study from the National Institutes of Health. But he ran into opposition from one Indian member, who suggested that a letter from the commission would make it appear as if the abuse is only an Indian problem.

The commission took no action on the request after Gov. George A. Sinner, who is its chairman, said he will write the letter himself.

Lizz Demaray, assistant director of the Indians into Medicine program at the University of North Dakota Medical School, the study would be ″very worthwhile to Indians. We have firsthand information that there is abuse.″

Alyce Spotted Bear, a member of the commission and tribe chairman at the Fort Berthold reservation, said that she was not aware of the abuse until a year ago.

Abuse of the disinfectant has been reported in areas of the state with high unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, such as reservations, said state Health Officer Robert Wentz said.

″If people become heavily involved with alcohol and they lose their jobs then they turn to other alternatives and Lysol is one.″

According to Indian members of the board, some reservation stores have limited sales of Lysol because of its abuse.

″It’s the same type of problem that occured in the Caucasian population several years ago when people were drinking antifreeze when it contained wood alcohol,″ Wentz said.

Officials with Sterling Drug Inc. of Montvale, N.J., the manufacturer of Lysol, could not be reached for comment Monday.

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