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US Government Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the haunting-fear-that-someone-somewhere-is-having-a-good-time dept.

United States 630

Hugh Pickens writes "Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Deborah Blum has an article in Slate about the US government's mostly forgotten policy in the 1920s and 1930s of poisoning industrial alcohols manufactured in the US to scare people into giving up illicit drinking during Prohibition. Known as the 'chemist's war of Prohibition,' the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, killed at least 10,000 people between 1926 and 1933. The story begins with ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which banned sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US. By the mid-1920s, when the government saw that its 'noble experiment' was in danger of failing, it decided that the problem was that readily available methyl (industrial) alcohol — itself a poison — didn't taste nasty enough. The government put its chemists to work designing ever more unpalatable toxins — adding such chemicals as kerosene, brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor to stop the poisoning program. But an official sense of higher purpose kept it in place, while lawmakers opposed to the plan were accused of being in cahoots with criminals and bootleggers. The chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, one of the poisoning program's most outspoken opponents, liked to call it 'our national experiment in extermination.'"

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Gov't for the people, by the people (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301058)

Nice how much hate exists among our democracy. (Ok, Representative democracy)

Re:Gov't for the people, by the people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301076)

It's still going on today via the CIA's involvement with "public health". Radiation experiments, drug programs, poisonings, targetted killings, water additives, the list goes on and on.

Re:Gov't for the people, by the people (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301096)

One time I got really drunk and fell down on the sidewalk breaking my nose. When I got home I told my Mom that I had gotten in a horrid fight. I told her a man beat me up and forced me to drink till I passed out... "You're a goddamned liar ," she said. I saw you and your dad drinking out back and you fell down right in front of me on the way up the drive ... How stupid do you think I am? "Stupid enough to think dad still loves you," I said. You could hear my dad laughing from way down the street. Damn ... those were the good ol days...

Re:Gov't for the people, by the people (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301150)

Do you see?!? That was the CIA. They were poisoning your family's booze to disrupt a potential threat to the US government. You were meant to be the one that set the people free, but now look at you.

Let me tell you a story. It's called, PARAQUAT !! (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301220)

That had people spewing up blood after one toke over the line. DEA, Uncle Sam, and some guy named Bill are but a few to blame.

Re:Let me tell you a story. It's called, PARAQUAT (1, Informative)

ragethehotey (1304253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301286)

That had people spewing up blood after one toke over the line. DEA, Uncle Sam, and some guy named Bill are but a few to blame.

"However, independent bodies have studied paraquat in this use. Jenny Pronczuk de Garbino,[9] stated: "no lung or other injury in marijuana users has ever been attributed to paraquat contamination". Also a United States Environmental Protection Agency manual states: "... toxic effects caused by this mechanism have been either very rare or nonexistent. Most paraquat that contaminates marijuana is pyrolyzed during smoking to dipyridyl, which is a product of combustion of the leaf material itself (including marijuana) and presents little toxic hazard.""

Re:Gov't for the people, by the people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301128)

Keep that tinfoil hat on tight! Otherwise the government mind control beams will get you!

Re:Gov't for the people, by the people (1, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301480)

Religionists are against booze, those disagreeing with religion are going to Hell, might as well give them an express ticket.

That Prohibition and the poisoning campaign happened prove this post is no troll.

Eventually, Chuck Norris put a stop to it (5, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301062)

From TFA:

"The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol," New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. "[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

Re:Eventually, Chuck Norris put a stop to it (1)

brendank310 (915634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301122)

Chuck's real first name is Carlos.

Re:Eventually, Chuck Norris put a stop to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301514)

Very true. And he wasn't born until 1940 either, so the GP is obviously a liar.

And today: (2, Interesting)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301066)

The penalty for drinking untaxed alcohol is still death or blindness.

Not if you do it right, the info is out there (4, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301176)

I think the home brewing and other do-it-yourself alcohol production communities would beg to differ with you. You only run into any real risk when you start distilling anyway.

Re:Not if you do it right, the info is out there (4, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301456)

Uhm, you do know that methanol is added to any ethanol not intended (or taxed) for human consumption, don't you? That is, the government would rather have people die or go blind than risk letting someone get away with evading a sin tax.

Re:Not if you do it right, the info is out there (1)

blai (1380673) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301468)

there still isn't enough risk to deter anyone from distilling.

Re:And today: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301318)

The penalty for drinking untaxed alcohol is still death or blindness.

I am mightily impressed at the ability of taxation to remove toxins from alcohol. I don't quite understand the chemistry of it, but it is evidently true. Some people insist on clinging to the idea that it is proper production process and quality control that produce good liquor, but they are just deniers.

Ah yes... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301068)

Very much like the US still poisons its opiates by adding acetaminophen to them to ensure that they cannot be taken in very high doses? Ah, the war on drugs!

Re:Ah yes... (3, Funny)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301202)

Ah, the war on drugs!

Let me fix that for you.

Ah, the war on some drugs and the American people!

All better. (:

Re:Ah yes... (3, Informative)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301426)

And let me fix that for you.

Ah, the war on some drugs and a friggin' plant and the American people!

Re:Ah yes... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301348)

I liked the idea of doping prescription narcotics with pepper so that the abusers couldn't abuse it.

Re:Ah yes... (1)

the biologist (1659443) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301382)

interesting, given that opiates are poison in "very high doses".

That's nothing! (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301486)

I have it from high authority that the government laces the narcotics with a mix of high fructose corn syrup, nutra sweet, MSG and margarine!

I wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301072)

If the goverment is also reaponsible for poisining MDMA pills and heroin?

Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (-1, Troll)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301080)

The government put its chemists to work designing ever more unpalatable toxins — adding such chemicals as kerosene, brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone.

These days we call this stuff 'preservatives' and add them to everything from frozen pizza to Entenmann's snack cakes.

Personally I think we're all embalming ourselves one day at a time by eating this stuff.

Re:Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301116)

do the rest of a world a favor and either kill yourself or get some education and find out what a preservative is.

keep your stupidity home.

Re:Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (-1, Troll)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301234)

do the rest of a world a favor and either kill yourself or get some education and find out what a preservative is.

I am killing myself ... one day at a time with preservatives!

Re:Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (1)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301196)

People are going to call you paranoid for that but it's pretty much true. Sodium Nitrite's one of the first that comes to mind.

Sodium Nitrite has medical uses but to get the chemical approved for use as a treatment it has to go through a ton of tests.
It is also used as a food preservative. For use in food the chemical is allowed until it is proven harmful.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_nitrite [wikipedia.org]

Re:Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301316)

Sodium Nitrite was of concern because in the acidic environment of your stomach, its acidified form is transient HNO2 which while not every stable, can react with amines to form nitrosamines which are now known to be carcinogenic to some degree. Bisphenol A is also of note as it mimics estrogen and as such has been put under the spotlight.

For use in food the chemical is allowed until it is proven harmful.

eh... not quite.. The regulations for food and herbal remedies are lax by comparison to drug regulations but it isn't quite the wild wild west.

Re:Sounds Like A Witch's Brew (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301238)

These days we call this stuff 'preservatives' and add them to everything from frozen pizza to Entenmann's snack cakes.

That is some nasty hyperbole you've got there.

Feds still going on (4, Interesting)

harvey the nerd (582806) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301084)

One might observe the very real actions of the FDA, approving EXPENSIVE dangerous new drugs, that should never have been released, and disparging other treatments that still work better (older generics, supplements). Some estimates are that several hundred thousand per year die because of such federally approved/mandated poisoning, millions more are injured.

Had a parent injured by several modern malpractices and pharmacides, turned out the way to survive was doing some older things that made simple biochemical sense. Much, much better now and I have objective measures to demonstrate it.

Re:Feds still going on (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301160)

One might observe the very real actions of the FDA, approving EXPENSIVE dangerous new drugs, that should never have been released, and disparging other treatments that still work better (older generics, supplements). Some estimates are that several hundred thousand per year die because of such federally approved/mandated poisoning, millions more are injured.

Do you have citations for the above? Especially the last sentence?

Re:Feds still going on (5, Insightful)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301174)

Stupid doctors are as much to blame for this as the FDA. When a drug company's patent is about to expire, they often superficially change the molecular structure of the popular drug so that they can get a new patent. Then they start the marketing blitz to "ask your doctor about" the new drug. Smart doctors will prescribe the proven cure over the patent cash-in drugs.

Re:Feds still going on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301226)

Are you blaming them in hindsight? It may be true that 95% of proposed drugs do more harm than good, but you have to try them out to find the 5% that work.

Re:Feds still going on (4, Insightful)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301258)

Several hundred thousand die per year? So it's half as bad as cancer or heart disease? I find that very hard to believe. And federally mandated poisoning? No one is forcing patients to take these drugs. Taking these drugs is a risk patients willingly take since, if they have a deadly disease, doing nothing itself has a high mortality rate.

Re:Feds still going on (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301492)

Heart disease is largely a consequence of a life time of eating processed crap that we wouldn't even eat without the addition of chemicals to make them taste reasonable (some products don't even manage that).

its pretty much a given that processed food contains too much salt sugar , transfats saturated fats and some lovely additions that are at least suspected of being carcinogenic.

natural food fresh veg and fruit and meat sliced (not pureed and reconstituted) are far better for you than the processed junk that is maybe 90% of what the average supermarket sells.

Heart disease is clearly related to he junk that we put in our mouths.

   

That medical examiner's name? (4, Funny)

kaliann (1316559) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301094)

In TFA: Charles Norris.
Because back in the day, he was just a medical examiner. He got the nickname "Chuck" from his ability to punch someone so hard they essentially became very similar to ground chuck.

Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (5, Insightful)

Saono (12019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301110)

Denaturing alcohol is a common practice even today to prevent tax dodging, perhaps the best mass-scale denaturing occurring today is in Ethanol plants.

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301124)

Denaturing != poisoning...

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (3, Informative)

Garridan (597129) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301172)

c.f. Wikipedia: "Denatured alcohol is ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous and/or unpalatable, and thus, undrinkable."

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (2, Funny)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301356)

Yes, but most of the time the denaturing is done by adding something that will make you feel sick and make the liquid in question taste horrible, and this is clearly pointed out on the containers. In fact, I've seen people drink more than a liter of modern denatured alcohol with the only side effect that they felt a little sick (gotta love some of the characters that show up at music festivals).

/Mikael

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301472)

You're talking about Bitterants such as Bitrex.

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (2, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301274)

Umm, not really.

In some cases(various household chemicals that a toxicologist really wouldn't recommend drinking, nail polish remover, antifreeze, that sort of thing) Denatonium [wikipedia.org] is used. Horribly bitter; but basically harmless. A lot of alcohol, though, still gets the good, old-fashioned methanol denaturing treatment; which can and will play hell with the consumer.

Re:Denaturing Alcohol is standard practice... (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301474)

Denaturing is done with methyl alcohol which is a poison.

The more things change... (4, Insightful)

sjpm (30128) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301120)

It's a good thing we no longer do things like that. You know, like add tylenol (APAP) to opiate painkillers so that if you abuse them you die of liver failure. Cause that wouldn't be cool at all.

Re:The more things change... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301138)

Yes, because adding one pain reliever to another pain reliever would make no other sense than to kill the patient.

Re:The more things change... (2, Funny)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301292)

Of course not. And that BS about adding caffeine to the aforementionned mix has nothing at all to do with increasing the rate of absorption, and is all about making you jittery while your liver is failing. Those bastards!

Re:The more things change... (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301504)

actually the caffeine is there due to it being typically a headache medicine and most headaches are caused by caffeine withdrawal.

Re:The more things change... (3, Interesting)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301308)

Dude, have you ever tried opiates? (I mean, in the socially-acceptable, medical way.) Adding acetaminophen to Vicodin is like adding vanilla extract to a bottle of tequila.

Re:The more things change... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301362)

It's probably the addition of the opiate you should question not the paracetamol.

In co-codamol 8/500 (UK standard publicly available strength) it is the opiate that is of dubious value because of the low dose. A few studies find that it offers no major benifit over paracetamol alone.
Would tylenol 1 be the closest US equivalent?

More Atrocities: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (5, Interesting)

reporter (666905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301126)

The deliberate decision by civil servants and politicians to poison alcohol is just another example in which self-righteous people choose to play god. Another horrible atrocity sponsored and conducted by Washington is the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment [npr.org] (TSE). Doctors paid by Washington injected syphilis into unsuspecting indigent Americans and studied the progress of the disease. When the experiment began, there was no cure for syphilis. However, after a cure -- i. e., penicillin -- was discovered, the doctors refrained from offering the cure to the subjects of the experiment. Washington wanted to see what happened to the human body when syphilis is allowed to run its course, ultimately killing the victim.

If you are reading my words with disbelief, I suggest that you visit the Web link that I have provided. The TSE was real and was an atrocity committed by the American government against its own citizens.

President Bill Clinton ultimately apologized to the victims and their families.

Re:More Atrocities: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experime (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301218)

Let's keep it going:

Eugenics Board of North Carolina [wikipedia.org]

Emp. added via bold on the interesting parts:

The Eugenics Board of North Carolina (EBNC) was an agency of the U.S. state of North Carolina created in 1933 after the state legislature authorized the practice of eugenics by state officials four years earlier.

In 1971, an act of the legislature transferred the EBNC to the newly created Department of Human Resources (DHR), and the secretary of that department was given managerial and executive authority over the board. Under a 1973 law, the Eugenics Board was transformed into the Eugenics Commission. Members of the commission were appointed by the governor and included the director of the Division of Social and Rehabilitative Services of the DHR, the director of Health Services, the chief medical officer of a state institution for the feeble-minded or insane, the chief medical officer of the DHR in the area of mental health services, and the state attorney general. In 1974 the legislature transferred to the judicial system the responsibility for any sterilization proceedings against persons suffering from mental illness or mental retardation.

The Eugenics Commission was formally abolished by the legislature in 1977.

The board sterilized about 7,600 people, many of them against their will, between 1929 and 1974, in an attempt to remove mental illness and "social misbehaviour" from the gene pool. Among the victims were 2000 young people, some as young as ten years old.

Gotta love the government.

Re:More Atrocities: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experime (1, Troll)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301454)

Hey, I have an idea. Let's let the government run our health care system!

Re:More Atrocities: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301376)

Look up the MK ULTRA project.

Re:More Atrocities: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experime (0, Troll)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301408)

Yet now days anyone mentioning a "death panel" is mocked...
Are they really that unthinkable considering these sort of events?

So what? (1)

Cheviot (248921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301142)

It's not like the government kept this a secret. The bottles were even marked "poison". If stupid people chose to drink poison...

Re:So what? (2, Informative)

JohnM4 (1709336) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301184)

That's an important point left out of the post. If they did this all in secret that's a much bigger deal than if people were drinking out of marked bottles.

Re:So what? (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301214)

I know, right? It's like, I tell those damn kids to stay off my lawn, even put a sign up...is it really my fault if they step on a landmine?

Re:So what? (1)

aka1nas (607950) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301250)

I know, right? It's like, I tell those damn kids to stay off my lawn, even put a sign up...is it really my fault if they step on a landmine?

Yes it is.... unless you're Russian. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/12/2818467.htm [abc.net.au]

Re:So what? (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301366)

Holy crap. I've just abandoned my lifelong dream to be a door-to-door salesman in the former Soviet Union.

Re:So what? (1)

Cheviot (248921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301278)

Except that this is an industrial solvent that was never designed or intended for human consumption. And yes... if you buy ethyl alcohol today from an industrial supply company? Still poisonous. Still marked as poison, yet people aren't drinking the stuff.

Re:So what? (5, Informative)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301330)

The bottles were marked poison before the government started doing this, because the industrial alcohol IS poison, even before the government started meddling.

To avoid the excise tax on liquors, industrial alcohol has to have methanol added to it.

The mathonal makes it even more toxic than ordinary ethanol, and unsuitable for drinking. But is required for it to be tax exempt.

Anyways, the issue is during the prohbition, some people were already drinking that unsuitable stuff. They were desperate, they were (probably) addicted, they took what they could get. So a lot of people were drinking this (a bit) industrial alcohol containing some [probably small] quantity of poisonous methanol.

So then the government' comes up with this "solution" is to make the stuff more deadly.... swiftly and quietly...brilliant!

Just because they didn't keep it a secret doesn't mean everyone automatically knew about it.

Or even that they had a good alternative.

Re:So what? (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301418)

So you have someone knowingly drinking one poison, and the potential to be drinking another unknown poison. How do you come up years later claiming that X people died from drinking the unknown poison?

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301510)

Your saying that those bottles of marked poison were never put into different bottles and sold at speak easys? learn your fucking history you apologist

Re:So what? (1)

MechaStreisand (585905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301496)

The summary is horribly misleading. It makes you think that people were just drinking methanol before the government started adding poisons, even though the methanol would kill anyone who drank it in similar quantities to ethanol. In the article, though, it states that methanol IS the poison that they were adding to ethanol. I was about to reply to you that adding things to make the methanol taste bad would save lives, but it made so little sense that I actually read the article and was enlightened. Whatever editor allowed that summary for that article should be fired, but I know that won't happen.

Oh, damn. (1, Troll)

mikkelm (1000451) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301156)

So what's going to happen to all those "at least we aren't killing our own people" arguments offered in defence of various despicable actions carried out in Iraq by armed forces of the United States?

Re:Oh, damn. (1)

schnablebg (678930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301390)

I'm going to guess they will remain valid since this article is about actions that took place over 80 years ago.

Re:Oh, damn. (1)

mikkelm (1000451) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301476)

I didn't realise that there was a statute of limitation on genocide.

Kinda like they poison opiates with apap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301158)

The liver damage caused by the acetaminophen supposedly keeps a lid on abuse of all those oxy/hydro/codeine combos that take away the give a shit from all the hurt. Lets hope the new regs keep out the bad without killing off any chances for those needing pain management. But I don't expect good policies in the drug area or much else these days.

A Different War on Drugs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301164)

Sounds similar to the "War on Drugs" - bound to fail, waste a lot of money and kill a heap of people in the process. What a waste.

Re:A Different War on Drugs? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301300)

On the plus side, Prohibition was a terrible plan executed with powers duly granted by a constitutional amendment. Prohibition II skipped the the last bit of statement.

Prohibition cripples our Nation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301188)

"Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), U.S. President.
Speech, 18 Dec. 1840, to Illinois House of Representatives (http://deoxy.org/prohib1.htm)

End prohibition.... support your local cannabis organization that is championing the removal of restrictions on cannabis.

Educate Yourself.... then Educate Your Neighbor!
(http://www.archive.org/details/Michael_Badnarik)

Still goes on. Ever heard of Denatured Alcohol? (4, Informative)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301194)

The BATF has a list of approved formulas which must be used to render ethanol undrinkable in order to avoid federal excise taxes. The list is available here:

http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/27cfr21_03.html [gpo.gov]

The denaturants used range from simply nasty-tasting, to nausea-inducing, to downright lethal.

Apparently, Uncle Sam would rather you be dead or blind than getting driunk without paying the booze taxes...

Re:Still goes on. Ever heard of Denatured Alcohol? (4, Interesting)

Aranykai (1053846) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301432)

What about all the people who need denatured alcohols in an industrial or commercial fashion? I'm a construction contractor and I use all the time as a solvent. I for one would rather not have to pay those taxes.

If they chose to drink something that is clearly harmful, why should I give a damn?

Methanol (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301200)

Wait wait wait...we're talking about "poisoning" methanol? Which is already extremely toxic?

I don't really see the purpose, but I definitely don't see a reason for outrage. Denatured alcohol (ethanol poisoned with methanol) is still produced, largely for taxation purposes I believe.

Re:Methanol (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301352)

They weren't drinking straight methanol, they would have died quickly. It was ethanol that contained an amount of methanol, i'm sure.

Probably a very unpleasant experience, but not as bad as having the government deliberately submarine them by quietly adding stronger poisons, or even changing rules to require higher concentration of methanol.

Re:Methanol (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301452)

The fact remains that these bootleggers were adding a chemical that was already known to be poisonous and extremely dangerous to drink. It's like complaining that the government put strychnine in gasoline and since bootleggers were adding gasoline to their drinks the government was solely responsible for deaths. No. These bootleggers put poison in their products to begin with; they knew it was killing people and they did it anyway.

Re:Methanol (Read TFA!) (1)

careysub (976506) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301512)

No they weren't poisoning methanol! They were poisoning industrial ethyl alcohol WITH methanol, up to 10% (plus other stuff). It is the methanol that was added that was the real killer (the lethal dose is around 20 ml or so).

Read TFA. In the fine tradition of /. summaries, it is an inaccurate condensation of the article.

It's still true today (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301224)

As others above have noted, this program continues today. 'Denatured' alcohol is just poisoned alcohol. This is a legal mandate, and was kept on after prohibition in order to support high alcohol taxes.

Ethanol is very cheap to produce and is used by industry as a solvent or antiseptic. The main additive is methanol, which causes blindless before it kills you -- classy.

Re:It's still true today (1)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301306)

It's classy? Does the blindness come with a tuxedo?

Listen you Dolts (2, Insightful)

PatTheGreat (956344) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301260)

They still do this stuff. It's called denatured. You're not supposed to drink industrial solvents. That's why they're industrial. No one complains that we poison antifreeze with ethylene glycol - BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DRINK ANTIFREEZE. Stuff meant for consumption is taxed at a higher rate and undergoes a lot of inspections to make sure it's fit for human consumption. If it's not meant for human consumption, they don't get taxed as heavily and don't undergo inspections. How do you prove your stuff isn't meant for humans? You poison it and LABEL IT AS SUCH. Industrial solvents are labeled poisonous because they are. We're not poisoning the masses, we are providing them solvents at cheaper rates.

Re:Listen you Dolts (5, Informative)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301398)

Actually, we don't "poison" antifreeze with ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is used because it makes a good antifreeze.

Unadulterated ethanol would be perfectly usable for most industrial purposes. But the government mandates the addition of other toxic substances which serve no purpose other than making the ethanol unusable as an intoxicant. That is the key difference here.

The Real Danger (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301312)

Yes, the Government's unscrupulous poisoning of the feeble minded is an outrage, and a threat to innocent drinkers of antifreeze throughout the nation. THEY maintain that their hands are clean by pointing out that the containers all bear clear labels of "poison" upon them, but that is merely a clever cover-up for their nefarious plans.

But the truly dangerous conspiracy, the greatest threat that few date to speak about, are the horrors lurking behind the innocuously named hydrogn dioxide. I urge you to look into the threat that substance presents, despite the Government's outrageous self-serving assurance about how harmless it is.

Alcohol is a poison anyways... (1)

Terminus32 (968892) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301334)

Psilocybin Mushrooms are a safe & legal way to expand your mind & have a good time...not alcohol.

190 Proof Alcohol (1)

hduff (570443) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301340)

I once nearly took a job at a distillery that produced alcohol for mixing with gasoline. It used some special Union Carbide pellets, pressure and high heat to chemically strip the water from the alcohol molecules, so efficiently that they had to add water to get it down to 190 proof. Even though the proofing house was refrigerated, you could get a good buzz on from just inhaling the air in the room much less drinking it (surprisingly it was very smooth); it was potent stuff. Anyway, before the 190-proof stuff could be shipped, it had to be rendered non-potable by, surprise, adding a small amount of gasoline.

not that different today (5, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301350)

The situation today is not that different. For example, deaths in the US and Mexico arising from heroin generally fall into two classes: (1) deaths because importing and selling heroin often involves violent criminal gangs, and (2) deaths because illegal heroin is impure. Both categories of deaths are purely government-inflicted, in the sense that the US government could end them tomorrow if it chose to legalize heroin.

Category #1 is pretty obvious: no more drug-related shootings if the stuff is being grown, imported, refined, packaged, and sold legally.

Category #2 is less well known to most people. When opiates were legal, people would generally just smoke opium. It had some bad health effects (e.g., constipation), but nothing all that deadly. People weren't overdosing from it. If you smoked too much, you fell asleep. Opium was legal in the US until around the turn of the 20th century. During most of the 20th century in the US, people were using extremely impure heroin. The impurities had two effects. One was that if it was maybe 10% heroin and 90% other ingredients, you couldn't get high from smoking or snorting it, so you had to inject it. AIDS transmission through shared needles wouldn't exist if heroin wasn't so impure that it had to be injected. The other was that the impurities themselves (often really nasty, random stuff like Ajax cleanser) could have devastating health effects. When you see a heroin addict who's lost all his teeth, it's because of the impurities, not the drug itself.

More recently, people have started to use black tar heroin imported from Mexico. Here [latimes.com] is a series of articles about black tar heroin from the LA Times. This stuff is much cheaper than traditional heroin, so you don't get as many property crimes because druggies are stealing to support their habits. However, the black crud tends to cause collapsed veins and other problems. Also, a lot of people are overdosing because the black tar is stronger than they're used to. If heroin were legal, people would be able to look at the packaging and get accurate information about its strength.

Let's legalize heroin in the US tomorrow. Mexico could pull back from being on the verge of becoming a failed state. People in the US would stop dying. Violent and nonviolent crime would be reduced. The prison population would be greatly reduced. The US has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, due almost entirely to the failed war on drugs. Keeping all those people in jail is extremely expensive. E.g., California spends more on prisons than on higher education.

indulge me this digression (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301354)

is it any wonder most people are uneasy about letting the govt manage our healthcare?

Re:indulge me this digression (-1, Offtopic)

schnablebg (678930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301420)

You mean like Medicare?

Our Enemy the State (1)

voisine (153062) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301392)

Our Enemy the State

pdf [mises.org]
audio [mises.org]

summary is flamebait! (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301394)

Early on in the 13-year experiment to outlaw ethyl alcohol, bootleggers turned to its poisonous cousin methyl alcohol, also known as wood alcohol, to quench the nation's thirst. Norris and Gettler saw the results carried into the city morgue. To begin with, methyl alcohol causes the same pleasant feelings of inebriation as ethyl alcohol, but these are quickly followed by blindness, coma and death.

So basically the bootleggers were defrauding the drinkers during prohibition by replacing the cheap (but legal for industrial uses) Methanol which can lead to blindness and ultimately death. The underground market was defrauding and poisoning people wholesale. So in effect, the Methanol was only safe to be used in industrial products as it was and would never have poisoned people if it had not been fraudulently added to alcoholic beverages in the first place. That isn't to say the government wasn't wrong, it most certainly was as is the entire concept of a drug war in of its self, it is that these underground markets were knowingly putting tainted Methanol into their products and killing drinkers as a result.

Interesting none the less, and... (1)

ebuilder (209792) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301400)

I knew about the denatured alcohol, but not the additives to opiates.
It might be worth adding that making industrial alcohols poisonous is mostly for taxation.
For instance you can (with a supposedly easily obtained permit) make alcohol for fuel, but it must be made in-consumable, however if you use that to drive on public roads you still need to pay a tax on it.
Same old story... The "do gooders" insist on the rules and the bureaucrats, criminals and middle men capitalize on it.

So who is after your rights? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301412)

Prohibition passed congress under the administration of a Republican president (Teddy Roosevelt). It then went to the desk of a Democratic president (Wilson) who vetoed the measure. The congress in their infinite wisdom then overturned his veto. Then in 1933, under another Democratic president (Franklin Roosevelt) prohibition was repealed.

So... (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301442)

in order to protect people from themselves, they poisoned people. Oh, how logical that is!

I approve of this (1, Interesting)

Bemopolis (698691) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301444)

I've been touting this idea for years: when drugs are seized, they should be poisoned and sold back on the streets and the money put back into the War on Drugs. And don't make a secret of it either: hold a press conference, with the chief of police saying "We seized a ton of pot last night. It's now in circulation with a shitload of toxin in it. Good luck, suckers!"

I mean, it's a fucking WAR on Drugs, right? The news channels need a body count. Then, after a few senators' daughters drop dead, maybe we can reconsider the rationale for it all.

They still do this (1)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301460)

Note that they state "Industrial Alcohol." The issue with prohibition is that you can't completely ban alcohol because it's too important a chemical and is used as a fuel, a solvent, an antiseptic, a cleaning agent, an octane booster, an antifreeze and many other things. "Industrial alcohol" is, as the name implies, alcohol that is not for drinking but for other uses. If it were produced to the same standards as spirits, it would be just as drinkable. Of course, this poses a problem for taxing and such. Liquors are heavily taxed and regulated, and if you could just go to your local hardware store and buy a jug of alcohol and drink it, the whole system would be undermined.

It's called "denatured alcohol" - it has other stuff in it to make it non-drinkable. Methanol is most common. Other things sometimes added are isoproponal, methy ethyl kerotone, kerosene, ethanol etc etc. Yes, of course it's still very much done. You're not supposed to drink industrial solvent anyway! By the way, that "ethanol" that is produced from corn and used to add to gasoline is also the same damn compound and would be drinkable if there was not additional stuff added to it. Most of it is shipped with 15% gasoline added.

Still doing it, aren't we? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301462)

It may not be the government doing it directly, but are there not still Federal laws and policies in place requiring that manufacturers of certain products containing ethanol and methanol be "poisoned"?

This isn't really so shocking when viewed from a global and historical perspective. Don't forget, it also wasn't just German institutions that advocated and implemented various forms of eugenics. In California in the 1920s, it was policy to sterilize patients in sanitariums, lest they be allowed to spread their imperfections further in the gene pool.

Something like this poisoning program is guaranteed to happen again. The only thing more imperfect than our gene pool is our implementations of democracy. It has always been so, because unfortunately there's no such thing as "set it and forget it" democracy; you have to keep after it constantly and aggressively. Ethical and political entropy sets in VERY quickly if you look away - or turn a blind eye - for even a moment.

Re:Still doing it, aren't we? (1)

ebuilder (209792) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301482)

Well said and quite true. Entropy is absolutely the nature of government, Franklin said as much as he stepped out of the constitutional convention with the ink still wet...

Prohibition is STILL doing more harm than good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31301464)

With cannabis prohibition, weed gets adulterated with tiny glass beads, sugar, other drugs, even gravy mix. People turn to JWH and similar untested research chems because the same high from a plant humans have used for millenia is illegal. Cannabis prohibition means people choose between Alcohol or Nicotine mainly, both of which can kill you.

And the Drug Czar says, "The science isn't in yet, I am against legalizing anything."

Nevermind the fact that his job description by law says he must oppose legalization, this guy apparently doesn't even understand the concept of a drug's therapeutic index (ratio of an effective dose : a lethal dose).

So a lot of us keep going to gangs and criminals and giving them inordinate amounts of money for a damn flower. Kids from the suburbs are zero degrees of separation away from gangs. Dealers don't card. And they don't all only sell weed. Just sayin'.

It's fckn' TWENTY TEN, GUYS. How far have we really come?

Makes you wonder (1)

hmmdar (1130219) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301470)

It makes you wonder if they are doing this with pot and other illicit drugs.

Interesting,I learned it the other way around (1)

exabrial (818005) | more than 4 years ago | (#31301484)

Funny, I learned it the other way around...

I learned that bootleggers were trying to put more 'kick' into their corn juice, so they added things like acetone, methyl, etc, and this was widespread because society barely understood certain chemicals were hazardous. In the same time period, smoking was considered healthy...

Just saying, I'd take this article as a good propaganda piece until facts are double checked.
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