The toxic chemical methanol has been identified as a possible cause of death for 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 the levels of the toxic chemical were enough to have killed them.
“Methanol has been detected in all 21 people who were there, but there is still progressive analysis of the quantitative levels of methanol and whether it may have been the ultimate cause of death,” said Dr. Litha Matiwane, Eastern Cape Province’s Deputy Director of Clinical Services. said at a press conference in East London on Tuesday.
Authorities are still waiting for the decisive results to be carried out at a laboratory in the city of Cape Town, he said.
Methanol is a toxic form of alcohol that is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide or an alternative fuel source. It is not used for the production of alcohol sold for human consumption.
It is not yet known how the young people ingested the methanol.
Alcohol poisoning and inhalation of carbon monoxide are both ruled out as possible causes of death, although traces of both were discovered in the bodies of all 21 victims, Matiwane said.
The teenagers died at the Enyobeni tavern in Scenery Park city in East London in the morning hours of June 26, which shocked the country and resulted in several investigations by the police and the liquor licensing authorities.
Many of the teenagers, aged 13 to 17, were found dead in the tavern, with their bodies strewn across tables and sofas. Others died after being rushed to nearby health facilities.
South African police will be guided by the final results of the toxicology analysis to determine if anyone will be prosecuted for the 21 deaths, National Police Minister Bheki Cele said.
The owner of the Enyobeni tavern and some employees were arrested and are currently on bail as they face charges related to violations of liquor laws, including the sale of liquor to children.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke at a mass funeral for the teenagers and promised that his government would take measures to prevent alcohol being served to children under 18 years of age.
The deaths of young people at the bar in East London are separate from the shootings at three bars in South Africa earlier this month in which a total of 22 people were killed. In all three incidents, the suspects opened fire on the borrowers before speeding up their vehicles, and the attackers in particular did not rob the victims. In the worst incident, gunmen broke into a bar in Johannesburg’s Soweto district and opened fire, killing 16 people.