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Demosthenes's avatar

What is going on in the Dominican Republic?

Asked by Demosthenes (14763points) June 11th, 2019

Six American tourists have died recently while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. Most of the deaths are “mysterious”, some involving pulmonary and cardiac issues, including a couple who were found dead in their hotel room with fluid in their longs. There have been a number of reports of people suddenly becoming sick while in hotels there, thankfully most don’t die. But the few that have have all died around the same time and the stories are getting a lot of attention.

What do you think is behind these deaths? Would these stories prevent you from traveling there?

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26 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Nothing new, my wife before we got married; visited Dominican Republic about 34 years ago. The person that invited her and her friend made sure the never were without an armed guard carrying an AR-47. Room to elevator and elevator to restaurant . . . . Chamber was loaded at all times.
She did not have fun for the eight days they were there.

flutherother's avatar

Is this death rate really significant? If you looked at a sample of Americans who remained in the US I suspect you’d find a similar death rate.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I suspect bad alcohol, from what I read they all had just taken some from the minibar. A percentage of booze served south of the border is illicit and could be contaminated with God knows what.
I wouldn’t go there myself.

hmmmmmm's avatar

People get sick and die all the time. People get shot all the time. An ex-baseball player gets shot and a few tourists die and we’re suddenly supposed to be talking about this in terms of country? What does the DR have to do with this in any way?

My daughter (15 at the time) went to the DR last year for 3 weeks. She didn’t stay in a resort, and spent time with the local population and Haitian immigrants. She wasn’t shot or poisoned, and she didn’t die.

jca2's avatar

There was an article in the NY Times recently about tourists getting sick and dying in resorts in Mexico. The article stated the resorts make their own alcohol to save money.

If you think about it, if they put some kind of sedative in the alcohol, tourists would be drinking less because they’d get drunk faster and pass out. That would save the resort money. Pay for all you can drink and pass out after only a few.

I suspect it’s something like this.

There are 7 deaths now. These are not old people. They’re young and middle aged. It’s very suspicious. The FBI is involved so hopefully they come to some kind of conclusion.

I said long ago I wouldn’t go to any vacation area that required armed guards. There are too many other places in the world to go, where such security is unnecessary. My safety is paramount.

JLeslie's avatar

I think something is definitely not right. I assume autopsies are being done. I hope the AP picks up the story once answers are found out and this story doesn’t just drop off the map.

A couple found dead is not something to pass off as people die all the time. This isn’t one person having a cardiac event, something happened to that couple.

One person who was telling me about it suggested maybe it’s pesticides. I couldn’t help remembering being in Casa de Campo and the house (it was owned by my BIL’s boss) was so sprayed with pesticides we couldn’t stay in there very long. Completely saturated. We stayed longer than I felt comfortable at the time, because I was worried it was poisoning us. I felt fine, but it was unbelievable. Mind you, I spray my house myself, and I’m not overly paranoid about these things, but it was thick in the air. The cabinets were open and I would hope they would wash every dish before using any. I can’t emphasize enough how bad it was.

That was a personal home, but still, the resorts might using very bad chemicals in the hotels.

That’s just a theory anyway, I have no idea really what is happening. Some horrible person could be poisoning people, like the horrible guy who tampered with Tylenol back many years ago. Some bad people out there. Scary.

I was there about 20 years ago visiting my SIL who was living in Santo Domingo at the time. We drove out to Casa de Campo for the day one day. Many famous and wealthy people have homes in Casa de Campo, but the surrounding areas as you approach are very poor. We didn’t have someone armed with us in Casa de Campo or Santa Domingo, we walked around freely. My SIL didn’t like living there. Her ex still lives there, and her kids still visit their father over there. I don’t think they feel especially unsafe.

LuckyGuy's avatar

i have no info but my guess is methanol poisoning.

Alcohol must be distilled precisely to ideally collect only the ethanol while avoiding the poisonous methanol. Methanol (toxic) boils at 64.7 C, Ethanol at 78.2 C, and water at 100 C.

it is possible unskilled “cooks” are boiling a fermented fruit or grain mash in a homemade kitchen with poor temperature monitoring equipment. They would need to heat the mix to boiling and let all the methanol boil off. Then continue to let the temperature rise and at 78–80C collect and condense the ethanol vapors to make their saleable, potent beverage.

One of the problems is methanol tastes sweet – even though it is toxic. If a quantity of methanol were to remain mixed in with the ethanol the beverage would taste the same, and the producers could charge more since they have more liquid to sell.
The difference would be discovered to late for the consumer.

The autopsies will tell.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

^^My guess was just this. When distilling other volatiles are concentrated. There is basically no ethanol in the “first catch” it’s a toxic mix of other alcohols. If they don’t throw it out or mix the entire distill together it could be a pure mix of all kinds of bad in the first bit to be bottled.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting about the methanol. Wouldn’t it be killing more people if that were the case? I would think a lot of people are drinking.

I remember my ex boyfriend had a cousin who had this huge jug/vase looking thing. They would throw old fruit in it, and eventually make wine or alcohol, I don’t remember which. By eventually, I think it sat there for weeks, I’m really not sure. My boyfriend wouldn’t drink whatever they made.

josie's avatar

I’m voting with the poisoning/alcohol crowd.

As for preventing me from traveling there, I can’t stand the Caribbean. So I won’t be going any time soon anyway.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JLeslie Maybe only a few places are serving homemade product. It could also be one bartender trying to make a few extra bucks by using homemade supplied by a friend. The Vodka bottle is empty so he refills it with homemade hootch thinking “those tourists will never know the difference. They’re here to get drunk anyway.”
So it could be isolated to one hotel, one bar, even one shift.

The article @jca2 posted says at least one case is from a chemical in pesticide.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Also the temperatures I referenced are for sea level at standard barometric pressure. Those temperatures vary with altitude and ambient pressure. On a gorgeous, high pressure day the methanol will boil off at a higher temp. At altitude, on a stormy day (low pressure) the ethanol will boil off at a lower temperature.
Other chemicals are boiling off at temperatures in between. Some of them are toxic.
A good, safe distiller needs to track and control for these factors.

By the way, butanol (toxic) smells just like Fonseca Bin 27 Port – a delicious aroma. .

JLeslie's avatar

@LuckyGuy I haven’t read the linked article yet, but I will.

I would think it shouldn’t be too hard to connect it to one bar. Credit cards, people who were with the person now deceased, etc.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Or someone working with housekeeping giving them refilled bottles for the minibar.

Here’s an interesting article about some Australian tourist deaths from ~2013.

Demosthenes's avatar

Interesting. I hadn’t realized consumption of alcohol was a factor in many of these cases. More than one story mentions a tourist declining shortly after consuming alcohol provided by the hotel. In the NYT article, one tourist mentioned a moldy smell in the air like something that could result from an unmaintained air conditioning system.

I’d heard “don’t drink the water”, but I guess “don’t drink the alcohol” is advisable too.

Still, nothing is as odd as the Cuban sonic attacks that were never proven to have been caused by anything sonic or to even have occurred in the first place.

I’ve been to the Caribbean (BVI, Bahamas) and enjoyed my time there. But there are maybe some places there I would avoid.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Most of the alcohol would probably be fine. It’s just the first few bottles that would be filled that make it deadly.

Crazy that the treatment for bad alcohol is to give good alcohol. Would have never guessed it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

They could be condensing everything over X degrees into a single container like a carboy and then refilling bottles.
They can honestly think they boiled off all the methanol but actually have some left if they didn’t measure temperatures correctly or didn’t stir the mash enough.
The hillbillies of TN had to know what they were doing or else they died – either by consuming their own product or at the hands of a relative who did. ;-)

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Yup, the temperature changes rather abruptly when the first run volatiles are distilled out. There is crud behind the ethanol as well. I can see them filling bottles during the process and not tossing any. The first few bottles can end up being almost pure methanol.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Frankly, I don’t understand how they survived without accurate thermometers.

Around here, a much colder climate, they used the freeze-thaw method for distillation of apple cider. That method takes longer but is safer.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Multiple runs of distillation and tossing the “ends”

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me I wonder how many producers were lost to experimentation.
“Hey, this stuff tastes pretty goo….”

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