Army investigators are trying to find out how the "liquor" that 11 hospitalized Fort Bliss, Texas soldiers confessed to drinking during a recent field exercise ended up containing a deadly ingredient used in antifreeze.
Nine of the soldiers have been released from the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas but two still remain in stable condition in the intensive care unit, Lt. Col. Allie Payne, a spokeswoman for the 1st Armored Division told Military.com Monday.
The two soldiers "have an improved prognosis but they remain in the ICU," Payne said.
Laboratory tests showed that the soldiers, who were from the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, had "trace levels of ethylene glycol in their blood," Payne said.
Ethylene glycol is a colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting chemical used in antifreeze and other automotive products.
"Early ethylene glycol intoxication resembles ethanol intoxication but without the characteristic odor of alcohol on the patient/victim's breath," according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website. Consuming as little as four ounces of ethylene glycol can be enough to kill an average-sized person.
Many of the hospitalized soldiers admitted to investigators that they thought they were drinking alcohol, not antifreeze, Payne said.
"When they realized that they were in a life-and-death situation and that it was very serious, a lot of people came forward with the truth; they came forward with who was involved and what they believe they drank," Payne said. "They thought they were drinking liquor."
But so far, investigators have not figured out who brought the soldiers the substance they thought was liquor and how it contained the poisonous ingredient.
"The truth is we don't know how what they were consuming was mixed with the ethylene glycol," Payne said, adding that it is a "possibility" that someone brought liquor to the field in an antifreeze container.
The hospitalized soldiers included one warrant officer, two noncommissioned officers and eight enlisted members. The soldiers had completed a 10-day field exercise and were packing up their equipment in the training area, but they were "technically in a field environment" and not allowed to consume alcohol on duty, Payne said, who added that it is unclear what disciplinary action the soldiers involved will face.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.