January 29, 2016

"A lot of people refer to it as 'moonshine on steroids.' A lot of people call it 'Dewshine.'"

People are drinking Mountain Dew mixed with racing fuel... and some of them, it seems, are dying.
"I think they were trying to substitute the methanol that's in racing fuel for alcohol... Methanol is metabolized to very, very strong acid. The pH of the blood goes so low, it's incompatible with life."

While the immediate effect of drinking methanol is similar to getting drunk from alcohol, ingesting it "causes the cellular machinery to break down".... "One of the unique things is it's metabolized in the eyes, so you get blindness"....
 ADDED: Irene sends a link to her blog post, "A Tragedy at the Žirgynas":
A group of Displaced Persons—single men from the Seligenstadt Žirgynas—were working for the U.S. Army at either a defunct air base or munitions plant. They found a barrel. It was marked, "alcohol." Woot! The men decided to have a party....

Everyone whooped it up and drank the alcohol. Over the next few days, groups of men from the Žirgynas reported to the Seligenstadt infirmary. The men complained of double vision and dizziness. They also began to exhibit other neurological abnormalities.

The alcohol turned out to be nonpotable methyl alcohol—the kind used to clean airplane engines and the like. My Mom was working at the time as a nurse in the infirmary. She remembers that the doctor on duty shrugged and said there was nothing to do but wait for the men to pass away....
Terribly sad.

44 comments:

tim maguire said...

Racing fuel is harmful when ingested?!? I'm trying not to be snarky, people are dying, but...(must...not...mention...Darwin...)

madAsHell said...

My Dad's pharmacy sold a lot of Sterno. It was jellied methanol. You could melt over a candle, and pour yourself a Pink Lady.

chickelit said...

I assumed w/o looking that methanol goes through the same enzyme as ethanol, alcohol dehydrogenase that ethanol does:

CH3CH2OH --> CH3CHO +H2O + water

So for methanol: CH3OH --> CH2O + water. Are they saying that formaldehyde oxidizes to carbolic acid, CO3H2? Is that the strong acid?

traditionalguy said...

Glorifying a Deathwish seems to be back today. Brilliant post Christian culture has re-discovered stoic suicide as the only truly free act.

cubanbob said...

What level of idiocy is needed to convince someone that drinking racing fuel is a good idea?

J. Farmer said...

What was that joke Bill Hicks used to make about the guys who supposedly killed themselves while listening to Judas Priest records?

Two less gas station attendants in the world!


p.s. Hicks never was that funny; just a slightly less smug David Cross

dbp said...

chickelit beat me to it, but let me add...

The first reaction in alcohol metabolism (dehydrogenation) is fast and produces acetaldehyde, which causes cirrhosis of the liver if you drink too rapidly. The next step is to acetic acid. With the one carbon methanol, the first step is to formaldehyde, which is what does the damage and then to formic acid--which is also not super good for you.

Fernandinande said...

The "Dewshine"-drinking deaths are believed to be Tennessee's first,

"The fact that methanol poisoning is nothing new and also that there is no evidence that this particular combination is popular or in widespread use hasn't stopped the scare story cycle, and it likely won't stop politicians and regulators looking to score points with new safety measures if the story has some staying power."

Baronger said...

OMG *facepalm*

Racing Fuel is a type of energy drink.

They are dying from the caffeine overdose.

http://www.racefuelenergydrink.com/

Quaestor said...

My Dad's pharmacy sold a lot of Sterno. It was jellied methanol. You could melt over a candle, and pour yourself a Pink Lady.

The two most important torpedoes used by the United States Navy in the Second World War was the Mark XIV submarine-launched torpedo and the Mark XV, which was launched from destroyers. The Mark XIV was 20.5 feet long and carried a 643-pound warhead. The Mark XV was 24 feet long with 843 pounds of torpex in the nose. Otherwise they were very similar. Both were propelled by a steam turbine fueled by compressed air and methanol.

In order to discourage moronic stunts like drinking the torpedo fuel the Navy mixed the methanol with a bright red dye which acted like an emetic if swallowed. The theory was make the sailor sick as hell after one gulp rather than letting him blind or kill himself after several gulps. The theory didn't quite work.

On subs there wasn't much of a problem for several reasons. Firstly, because of the technical complexity of submarines and the all-volunteer nature of the service, submarine sailors tended to have high IQs and high motivation. Secondly, it was impossible to be alone with the torpedos long enough to drain the fuel.

The worst offenders were sailors assigned to submarine tenders, auxiliary ships tasked with repairing and resupplying submarines. Tenders often had hundreds of torpedoes and thousands of gallons of torpedo fuel in storage, so bored sailors had ready access to "gillie juice" as they called it. The rumor spread that the harmful effects of methanol could be filtered out by pouring it through a loaf of bread. All this actually did was remove some of the deterrent dye, changing the bright red alcohol into a pink solution, hence Pink Lady.

chickelit said...

@dbp: Thanks for straightening things out.

Methanol, the "racing fuel", used to be known as "wood alcohol" as opposed to grain alcohol. There are often traces of methanol in some distilled spirits, such as those produced by fermenting grape leaves and stems. The antidote to methanol is ethanol.

chickelit said...

Another bad alcohol to consume is anti-freeze, or ethylene glycol -- the stuff that's coded green with fluorescein dye. You'd think that with two hydroxyls, HO-CH2CH2-OH, you'd get twice the buzz per mole as ethanol. But the metabolites are kidney stone components: oxalic acid.

Laslo Spatula said...

Kids should know you only mix racing fuel with Pop Rocks.

I am Laslo.

Yancey Ward said...

Methanol and its by-products can kill you in two different ways- CNS suppression (what normal spirits can do as well), and by inhibiting the function of the mitochondria of your cells.

To Chicklit above- carbolic acid is a common name for phenol (hydroxybenzene), an aromatic alcohol. Formic acid is the common name for methanoic acid, the acid by-product of methanol metabolism. I don't know the acid strength of formic acid, but I do know it is nastier to deal with than acetic acid, and can burn you if you get it on your skin for more than a few minutes.

Quaestor said...

Kids should know you only mix racing fuel with Pop Rocks.

So that's how Lil' Mikey kicked it! Savage and Heinemann think they're so smart...

DCS said...

A couple of medical corrections, just to nit pick. The acidosis produced by methanol ingestion is caused by poisoning mitochondria, the organelles responsible for oxidative metabolism. So the cell has to live in an anerobic state. The pH change is not profound, normal being 7.35-7.45 in the human cell. But if the pH is 6, say, that's not compatible with life. Strong acids have pH of 1 or less.
The ocular toxicity is not caused by the chemical reaction occurring only in the eyes. It's just that the optic nerve is profoundly affected by formic acid. The conversion of formaldehyde to formic acid occurs everywhere.

Quaestor said...

I don't know the acid strength of formic acid, but I do know it is nastier to deal with than acetic acid, and can burn you if you get it on your skin for more than a few minutes.

Formic acid gets its name from its association with ants, taxonomic family Formica. Ants are the evolutionary descendants of ancient wasps and have retained some wasplike characters including stingers. The venom ants inject with their stingers contains formic acid.

Every once in a while the silly idea that humans should eat insects rather than beef will crop up, usually in university towns like Madison. Years ago someone in Chapel Hill held an ant-eating contest. The contestants complained that the ants were intolerably sour. Well, d'uh...

robother said...

The Joaquin Phoenix character in "The Master" captures the spirit wonderfully: using whatever's at hand to alter your mental state. That movie shows how much of the 60s experimentation was at work in the Boomer's parents' generation coming out of WWII.

YoungHegelian said...

Once, while walking to the metro past the DC courthouse, I had a very earnest conversation with two bums about why it really wasn't a good idea for them to be sharing a bottle of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Needless to say, my neighborly advice went unheeded. Sometimes I wonder what emergency room they end up in that evening.

Bill R said...

Color me skeptical. I've been around a lot of chemicals but I've never seen a container of methanol labelled "alcohol". Such a container would be an "un-happened accident"

I would think the USAF, with a million 19 year old's to watch over, would be especially careful

Irene said...

@Bill R, It's possible it was an old German plant, not a U.S. facility. The men who died not not read English (were it a U.S. facility), and their German likely was pretty elementary. The barrel may have been properly marked, but it's possible the only word the men understood was "alcohol."

HoodlumDoodlum said...

The ratio of "facts w/context in the Althouse comments" to "facts w/context in the original report" is especially high on this one.

Lance said...

Reminds me of the stories from the 80's, that the Soviets could barely keep their combat aircraft flying from northern bases because the pilots and ground crew were drinking the antifreeze.

Bill R said...

Irene, you may be right.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Think of it as evolution in action.

Balfegor said...

Potable alcohol is so cheap in the US that I simply cannot understand why people would do this.

EDH said...

"Mountain Dew or Crab Juice?'

Fritz said...

The government makes the alcohol producers add methanol to untaxed alcohol to keep people from drinking it. That's called "denatured" alcohol. They'd rather kill people than let them get drunk without paying taxes.

chickelit said...

Balfegor said...
Potable alcohol is so cheap in the US that I simply cannot understand why people would do this.

"Cheap" is a relative term of course. For the middle class, it is affordable. For the bottom rung, not so much. It is true that alcohol, like gasoline and diesel, is highly taxed.

SGT Ted said...

Idiots will be idiots. Can't just drink some Everclear..nnOOooo have to drink poison to be cool.

Morons.

gerry said...

PepsiCo, the maker of Moutain Dew, makes a product called DEWshine that it advertises as a "craft, premium soft drink inspired by the brand's roots in the backwoods of Tennessee." That drink is non-alcoholic but, like Mountain Dew, contains caffeine.

A craft soft drink? Holy booshwah.

John A said...

If understood in time (too late for these men) there is an antidote - ethanol.

averagejoe said...

Is it possible to drink methyl alcohol and not realize that it is toxic? Aside from the noxious fumes and burning feeling, does the body not recognize this as poisonous and retch it up involuntarily? I mean, you can force yourself to swallow gasoline, but common sense and animal instinct tell you that this is not a liquid one should ingest, and your body starts puking it up pretty quick.

chickelit said...

Is it possible to drink methyl alcohol and not realize that it is toxic? Aside from the noxious fumes and burning feeling, does the body not recognize this as poisonous and retch it up involuntarily? I mean, you can force yourself to swallow gasoline, but common sense and animal instinct tell you that this is not a liquid one should ingest, and your body starts puking it up pretty quick.

I doubt the methanol drinkers are imbibing it straight -- they are probably cutting it with water at least -- otherwise it would burn just like 180 proof ethanol does. BTW, your body does reject OD'ing on ethanol as well. Haven't you ever puked your guts out?

chickelit said...

SGT Ted said...
Idiots will be idiots. Can't just drink some Everclear..nnOOooo have to drink poison to be cool.

Everclear is not cheap (at least in CA).

Sammy Finkelman said...

I didn't know how methanol causes the damage it does. Methanol also poisoned people during Prohibition.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

chickelit said...

The antidote to methanol is ethanol.

And the antidote to ethanol ( at least at the hangover stage ) is more ethanol. It's like a wonder drug!

averagejoe said...

Blogger chickelit said...Haven't you ever puked your guts out?

1/29/16, 1:50 PM

Oh yes! I am known for my volatile stomach, and have vomited lots of places including on a nun, and into a cowboy's boot from ten paces, but my most memorable barf was when I projectile vomited into a crowd of commuters on a packed subway train during rush hour, causing both train and track to be put out of service, and ruining a lot of people's day.

Sigivald said...

Is it possible to drink methyl alcohol and not realize that it is toxic? Aside from the noxious fumes and burning feeling, does the body not recognize this as poisonous and retch it up involuntarily?

1) People mix it.

2) Pure ethanol isn't exactly pleasant to drink, but it doesn't kill you (at least, not like this). It also "burns" [pure alcohol of any kind dries things, so it burns to drink], and has unpleasant fumes.

The body is actually terrible at detecting many [most?] pure chemical poisons; there's no biological reason for such a response to have evolved, after all.

MadisonMan said...

Now my uncle Nort, he's sawed off and short
He measures about four foot two
But he thinks he's a giant when you give him a pint
Of that good ole mountain dew

A great song, sung numerous times around the campfire with Boy Scouts.

Link

southcentralpa said...

Wow. First to mention "Bargain" by A. B. Guthrie, Jr http://205.186.130.127/images/uploads/Bargain%20-%20AB%20Guthrie.pdf

Yes, it *is* good to know how to read ...

Rusty said...

Well crafted moonshine is quite smooth any easy to drink. It actually doesn't have much flavor.

Michael K said...

Darwin Award nominations please.

Char Char Binks said...

Some folk'll never drink jet fuel, but then again some folk'll...