At least 11 people have been killed following the ingestion of “lambanog,” a coconut wine in the Philippines. Additionally, more than 300 people have been sickened in the Laguna and Quezon area after consuming the alcoholic drink, reports Sky News. Lambanog is a popular liquor in the Philippines consumed on holidays and celebrations.
“Lambanog (coconut wine) is being fremented from the sap of a coconut flower,” a spokesperson from the Philippine General Hospital said. “If it is fermented, it produces methanol during the fermentation. Sometimes, the lambanog being sold has too much methanol content.”
Methanol is a byproduct of alcohol fermentation. During the distillation process, the methanol is supposed to be stripped but some makers will leave it in or add more for greater volume. However, methanol consumption can cause blindness or death.
Rizal Mayor Vener Munoz urged residents to seek medical attention if they drank lambanog after a string of deaths between Thursday and Sunday.
The Department of Health has taken blood samples from the victims along with samples from bottles for analysis.
“All had a history of lambanog ingestion,” the department said according to Reuters. “Some bought for leisure drinking and birthday party, while others were donated by local officials during their Christmas party.”
Fred Ray, the owner of the distillery “Rey Lambano” which supplied the drink, turned himself in after news broke out. There were many complaints against the distillery for negligence. However, he was not arrested because his distillery is legal and he promised to help the victims with their expenses.
Unregulated alcohol production is common in southeast Asia. The Filipino government has issued warnings previously against the use of methanol as an additive in liquor.