By Cailey Rizzo
July 22, 2019
Stanley Chen Xi/Getty Images

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating if fake alcohol caused the deaths of three American tourists in the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

From the start of April through the end of June, at least nine American tourists died while on vacation in the country, suffering heart or respiratory failure, according to The Cut.

The FBI has taken alcohol samples from hotels where the deaths occurred and the toxicology reports are due any day now. They were expected to be released mid-July.

On June 30, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to help investigate.

Several of the Americans were found in their hotel rooms after having a drink from their minibar.

Local authorities are investigating if the alcohol could have been imported laced with antifreeze.

However, the Dominican Republic is fighting back against claims that it is an unsafe destination. “We are a model for global tourism," the country’s tourism board said at a press conference last month. "Here we are talking about nine people, but there are countries in the area where 10 times the number of Americans have died there. But all eyes are on us."

A U.S. State Department official told NBC News that they had not seen “an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the department” and there is no official travel warning against the country.

Counterfeit alcohol is a problem around the world but not one that many Americans are familiar with, due to mass regulation in the country. But earlier this year, at least 154 people in India died and hundreds were hospitalized after consuming alcohol that was laced with methanol.

Counterfeit alcohol is quickly and cheaply produced through dangerous distillation processes, like adding a mixture of water and methanol, known as methyl alcohol. Methanol can cause liver damage, blindness and death if consumed.

Americans who are traveling abroad and are worried about fake alcohol can perform a test for methanol by setting fire to a very small amount of their liquor. If it contains methanol, it will burn green or orange. Regular alcohol will burn blue. Any alcohol that contains methanol will likely also have a funny smell.

“Or just stick with beer,” Nathan Lents, a biologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Vice News. “You don’t see a lot of this stuff popping up with beer at all. And just in case, stick with beer that you know and are familiar with.”

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