The toxic chemical methanol has been identified as the possible cause of death for 21 teenagers who were found slumped over couches and collapsed on the dance floor at a bar in South Africa last month.
Many of the teenagers, aged between 13 and 17, died at the Enyobeni tavern in the city of East London in the early hours of June 26.
Others were rushed to nearby health facilities with no visible injuries but later died. The mysterious incident shocked the country and made headlines across the world.
This week, it was revealed that methanol — a colourless toxic form of alcohol often used in antifreeze and paint remover — has been found in all of the victims’ bodies.
“Methanol has been detected in all the 21 individuals that were there, however there is still progressive analysis of the quantitative levels of methanol and whether it could have been the final cause of death,” Dr. Litha Matiwane, Eastern Cape provincial deputy director for clinical service, said on Tuesday.
An investigation continues into how the teens ingested the chemical and if the levels were high enough to have killed them.
Methanol, which is sometimes used to make illegal alcohol, can be lethal for humans even in the smallest amounts.
Alcohol poisoning and carbon monoxide have both been ruled out as possible causes of death despite traces of both being detected in the bodies of all 21 teens, Matiwane said.
Authorities said they are still waiting on final toxicology reports, which will determine if anyone will face criminal charges for their deaths, national police minister Bheki Cele said.
The owner of Enyobeni tavern and some employees were arrested and are currently out on bail as they face charges related to the violation of liquor trading laws, including the sale of liquor to children.
The country’s legal drinking age is 18.
Witness recalls horror incident
It’s believed the teens were at the nightclub to celebrate the end of their school exams, local publications report.
Sibongile Mtsewu, 22, told ABC News he was at the tavern at the time of the mass deaths.
He said he was ordering a drink in the crowded club when the doors closed and a chemical agent was suddenly released into the air.
“There was no way out,” he said.
“There was no chance to breathe.”
A funeral was held for 19 of the victims earlier this month. Shocking photos show the coffins lined up next to each other in front of a large crowd filled with grieving parents, relatives and friends.
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