Deaths linked to tainted vinegar in Xinjiang

Updated: 2011-08-23 07:50

(China Daily)

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HOTAN, Xinjiang - Police on Monday blamed tainted vinegar for causing a mass poisoning that killed at least 11 people and sickened about 120 others at a Ramadan meal in Northwest China.

A 6-year-old was among the dead in the incident, which occurred in Sangzhu, a village in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on late Friday, according to local police. Another person is in critical condition while the others are no longer in danger after being treated at the hospital.

An initial probe showed that the villagers, at a late night Ramadan meal, had drunk vinegar from two plastic barrels that had previously contained antifreeze. They began to feel sick the next morning.

The police are still waiting for results from toxicity tests to confirm the source of the poisoning, they said.

Antifreeze commonly contains a chemical known as ethylene glycol, which causes symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.

The poisoning occurred during the religious period of Ramadan, when Muslims eat in large groups at night after fasting during the day. The police said that is why so many people were affected.

More than half of Xinjiang's population of 21 million are Muslims from 10 ethnic groups, including the Uygur, Kirgiz, Kazak and Uzbek groups. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the year in the Muslim calendar, Chinese Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sexual intercourse from sunrise until sunset. Children, the elderly and the weak do not have to fast.

China's Ministry of Health reported that at least 45 people died in food poisoning cases across the country in the first six months of 2011, and the majority of the deaths were caused by food tainted by toxic chemicals.

The ministry also reported that most of the deaths occurred in people's homes. Eleven cases of food poisoning were reported to have occurred in student canteens in the first half of the year. In those, 701 people were sickened but no deaths were recorded.