Methanol poisoning possible cause of death for 21 teens in East London, South Africa tavern

JOHANNESBURG – The toxic chemical methanol was identified as a possible cause of the deaths of 21 teenagers at a bar in the South African city of East London last month.

Methanol was found in all of their bodies and investigations continue to determine if levels of the toxic chemical were sufficient to kill them.

“Methanol was detected in all 21 people who were there, but there is still ongoing analysis of the quantitative levels of methanol and whether it could have been the ultimate cause of death,” said Dr. Litha Matiwane, deputy director of the Eastern Cape provincial clinical service, said at a news conference in east London on Tuesday.

Authorities are still awaiting the final results, which will be carried out at a laboratory in the city of Cape Town, he said.

SEE MORE: Authorities are looking for answers after 21 teenagers are mysteriously found dead at a South African nightclub

Methanol is a toxic form of alcohol used industrially as a solvent, pesticide, or alternative fuel source. It is not used to produce alcohol sold for human consumption.

It is not yet known how the young people absorbed the methanol.

Alcohol poisoning and carbon monoxide inhalation have both been ruled out as possible causes of death, although traces of both were found in the bodies of all 21 victims, Matiwane said.

The teenagers died at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London’s Scenery Park in the early hours of June 26, shocking the country and prompting multiple investigations by police and alcohol officials.

Many of the teenagers, aged between 13 and 17, were found dead in the tavern, their bodies strewn across tables and sofas. Others died after being taken to nearby health facilities.

RELATED: Mass shooting at Soweto bar in Johannesburg leaves 15 dead: South African police

South African Police will be guided by the final results of the toxicological analysis to determine whether anyone will be prosecuted for the 21 deaths, National Police Minister Bheki Cele said.

The owner of the Enyobeni tavern and some employees have been arrested and are currently on bail on charges of violating liquor trade laws, including selling liquor to children.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke at a mass funeral for the teenagers and pledged his government would take action to stop alcohol being served to children under the age of 18.

The deaths of the young people at the bar in East London differs from the shootings at three bars in South Africa earlier this month which killed a total of 22 people. In all three incidents, the suspects opened fire on guests before driving away in their vehicles, and notably the attackers did not rob the victims. In the worst incident, gunmen burst into a bar in Johannesburg’s Soweto township and opened fire, killing 16 people.

The video in the player above is from a previous report.

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