Moonshine Hits The City

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Forget those images of barefoot hillbillies and turtleback Plymouths tearing around the hills. Moonshine, once a staple of rural Southern culture, is making a comeback — as a big-city public-health hazard. In a study of 581 emergency-room patients at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, published in the September issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine, 9% admitted quaffing the stuff in the past five years. At a dollar a shot, moonshine may be enjoying new popularity because of economic hard times. It's also gaining appeal as a novelty drink — flavored with apples, peaches or other fruit to make a brandy sometimes called tricky liquor. But moonshine can contain high levels of lead, since it is often distilled from corn through old car radiators and even older pipes, and over time this can cause blindness, brain damage and death. Emory University toxicologist Brent Morgan, who co-wrote the Emergency Medicine study, has seen health problems like disorientation, anemia, kidney failure and ulcers. He says colleagues in other Southern cities have noted a similar uptick in moonshine-related maladies. But supplies seem as healthy as ever. Virginia officials busted a giant 30,000-gal. operation in May, and Georgia law-enforcement officials have shut down at least four stills in the past year.