fifty years ago September 23, 1971 Archives

From the Archives (September 23, 1971): 21 dead in Madras after taking varnish

Twenty persons including two women died to-day after consuming varnish in Tiruvottiyur in North Madras [Madras, Sept. 22]. Of them eleven died at the Stanley Hospital. The others died in their houses before they could be taken to hospital. Yesterday a middle-aged man of Perambur Barracks who consumed varnish later died in the Government Hospital. Forty-eight persons including three women were admitted to the Stanley Hospital since mid-night of Tuesday. The condition of three others is precarious. One victim admitted in the General Hospital to-day is progressing. Most of the dead were in the age group of 18 to 55. More than hundred persons mostly slum-dwellers had taken what was described as ‘kalakkal’ (varnish) since Monday. The people who had taken this spurious drink were from slums abutting the sea. Patients with symptoms of blurred eye sight, nausea, and respiratory trouble came streaming in after 9 this morning to the hospital. The poisonous element in the drink is suspected to be methyl alcohol. A hospital spokesman said that the patients were administered orally ethyl alcohol to neutralise the methyl alcohol. Sodium bicarbonate solution and glucose was also given intravenously. For those who experienced breathing trouble, oxygen was administered. According to a Tiruvottiyur Councillor, the victims had bought the varnish from a shop on Tiruvottiyur High Road as there was no toddy or arrack shop in that locality.

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