by Elder (Dr.) Chukwuma Nwaonicha
The recent outbreak of deaths of over 60 persons arising from the consumption of local gin (Ogogoro) is outrageous and scaring, noting that local gin has been in consumption in years without such detrimental effect. The locally produced gin was linked to deaths in Rivers and Ondo States.
The authorities concerned in the affected States and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC should act fast in order to prevent the spread of the deadly gin to other states or the ugly incident repeating its self again. I believe that the gin may be intentionally poisoned or highly contaminated during production processes. If the deaths occurred due to contamination, then the producers in the two States might have used the same process in making the gin, employing the same catalyst instead of yeast.
It is important to understand or know the following analysis below in order to address this important issue of killer Ogogoro in these States.
Ethanol, also commonly called ethyl alcohol, drinking alcohol, or simply alcohol is the principal type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, produced by the fermentation of sugar by yeast. The composition of Ogogoro is ethanol and water otherwise it is contaminated or denatured alcohol (denatured alcohol also called methylated spirits is ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous and unfit for consumption). Ethanol is denatured with methanol or other compounds to prevent people from consuming it. Methanol is extremely poisonous (it is poisonous to the central nervous system and causes blindness, coma, and death). Methanol is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to that of ethanol (drinking alcohol). However, unlike ethanol, methanol is highly toxic and unfit for consumption. At room temperature, it is a polar liquid, and is used as an antifreeze, pesticide, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol.
Alcohol is a neurotoxic psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs used by humans. As noted, it can cause alcohol intoxication when consumed in sufficient quantity. Ethanol is known to act as central nervous system depressant and has significant psychoactive effects in sublethal doses. Based on its abilities to alter human consciousness, ethanol is considered a psychoactive drug. The amount of ethanol in the body is typically quantified by Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is taken as weight of ethanol per unit volume of blood. Small doses of ethanol, in general, produce euphoria and relaxation; people experiencing these symptoms tend to become talkative and less inhibited, and may exhibit poor judgment. At higher dosages (BAC greater than 1 g/L), ethanol acts as a central nervous system depressant, producing at progressively higher dosages, impaired sensory and motor function, slowed cognition, stupefaction, unconsciousness, and possible death. Ethanol is commonly consumed as a recreational drug, especially while socializing, due to its psychoactive effects.
An alcoholic beverage is a drink which contains a substantial amount of the psychoactive drug ethanol. Drinking plays an important social role in most cultures. Alcohol has potential for abuse and physical dependence. Almost all countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption, and some countries ban such activities entirely. However, alcoholic beverages are legal in most parts of the world. The global alcoholic beverages industry exceeded $1 trillion in 2014.
Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world. Discovery of late Stone Age jugs suggest that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period. Alcohol is use in many other fields: in medical as antiseptic, antitussive and antidote. Alcohol is also used as feedstock for fuel production – engine fuel (the largest single use of alcohol is as an engine fuel and fuel additive), fuel cells, rocket, household heating, and as a solvent among others.
There are essentially three methods used to produce ethanol: (1) the synthetic route-manufacturing of ethanol from ethene using steam, (2) production from sugars and starches by fermentation, using yeasts and (3) production from biomass waste, using bacteria.
Fermentation has been carried out for millions of years and is the traditional method of common alcohol production. Most of the world’s ethanol is produced by fermentation, using crops such as sugar cane, sugar beet, corn, rice, palm wine, cassava and corn among others. Municipal waste can also be used as feedstock, reducing landfill disposal and turning rubbish into a valuable product. Fermentation is a complex series of reactions that convert carbohydrates, mainly sugars and starches, into ethanol and carbon dioxide. It works best at temperatures in the range 25?C – 37?C in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic), and will produce aqueous solutions of up to 14% ethanol. Higher alcohol contents require further distillation. Highly concentrated alcohol or pure alcohol with trace amount of water (absolute alcohol) is always diluted with water for better consumption or safe consumption.
Alcoholic fermentation, also referred to as ethanol fermentation, is a biological process in which molecules such as glucose, fructose and sucrose are converted into cellular energy and thereby produces ethanol and carbon dioxide as metabolic waste products. Because yeasts perform this conversion in the absence of oxygen, alcoholic fermentation is considered an anaerobic process.
As stated above, the production of ethanol from starch or sugar-based feedstock is among man’s earliest processing of value-added agricultural products. Sugar can be obtained either directly from sugar cane, sugar beet, or sweet sorghum, or derived from the conversion of starch contained in starchy plants, such as cereal grains (e.g. wheat, corn, and barley), millets, roots and tuber crops (e.g. potato, cassava), and palm wine among others. While the basic processes for production of ethanol from sugar crops and starchy plants are similar, there are clear advantages in producing ethanol directly from sugar crops because of the additional process required to convert starches into sugar prior to fermentation. The conversion of complex polysaccharides (starch) in the biomass feedstock to simple sugars is a high-temperature process using acids and enzymes as catalyst. Because of this additional step, energy and greenhouse gas balances are mostly more favorable for producing ethanol directly from sugar crops as compared to starchy plants. The energy requirement for converting sugar directly from sugar cane into ethanol is about half that of using corn.
From the above analysis, if the traditional fermentation process of making Ogogoro with or without yeast produces only alcohol and water, the question is where does the poison or contamination come from? This is the question to be answered by the authorities in both States and NAFDAC. Therefore, the solution to this puzzle should be scientific and professional means and not banning Ogogoro entirely. However, Ogogoro should be banned or confiscated in the affected areas in the States to avoid further death toll or spreading the deadly local gin to other States.
Possible Solution: random samplings of local gin in the affected areas or States and other States in the Niger Delta region (as reference samples) should be collected. The samples should be analyzed to determine the composition of the local gin, which supposed to be ethanol and water. The sample should be analyzed with Gas Chromatography-Mass spectrometry (GC-MS) interface, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy, and Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS) among other analytical instrument and tests.
A Gas Chromatography?Mass Spectrometry is an analytical method that combines the features of Gas Chromatography?Mass Spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample. That is, GC-MS is a hyphenated technique, which combines the separating power of Gas Chromatography, with the detection power of Mass Spectrometry. Applications of GC-MS include drug detection, fire investigation, environmental analysis, explosives investigation, and identification of unknown samples among others. GC-MS can also be used in airport security to detect substances in luggage or on human beings. Additionally, it can identify trace elements in materials that were previously thought to have disintegrated beyond identification.
NMR provides information about the carbon-hydrogen framework of a compound. NMR spectroscopy is a spectroscopic method of measuring the absorption of radiofrequency radiation by certain nuclei when the nuclei are in a strong magnetic field. The most important NMR spectra for organic chemists are proton NMR spectra and carbon-13 NMR spectra. These two types of spectra provide structural information about the carbon framework of the molecule, and about the number and environment of hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon atom.
AAS is a spectro analytical procedure for the quantitative determination of chemical elements employing the absorption of optical radiation (light) by free atoms in the gaseous state. In analytical chemistry the technique is used for determining the concentration of a particular element (the analyte) in a sample to be analyzed.
In conclusion, once the chemical characterization of the local gin has been completed and the chemical causing the deaths identified; the production/distribution sources of the contaminated or poisoned alcohol should be traced in order to reduce the death toll and the spread of such product to other part of the Nation. Just before I finish this write-up, NAFDAC casually and reluctantly stated that methanol, and not ethanol was responsible for the death of more than 70 people from the consumption of local gin, the question is where does the methanol come from? Does it mean producers of Ogogoro are using denatured alcohol as local gin? If so, that is intentionally poisoning customers and it is a criminal act because denatured alcohol is an industrial or laboratory grade alcohol (unfit for consumption) as opposed to a pharmaceutical grade alcohol ?pure alcohol (for consumption). The question for NAFDAC is: who imports and distributes the contaminated or denatured alcohol? The issue is that the locals cannot produce methanol, which is largely produced by the catalytic hydrogenation of carbon monoxide or pyrolysis of wood (wood alcohol). As always, you?re blessed.