South African officials said Tuesday that the toxic chemical methanol has been identified as a possible cause of the deaths of 21 teenagers at a bar in South Africa last month.
Methanol, a colorless liquid with a strong odor, was found in all of their bodies, and investigators were trying to determine whether the levels of the toxic chemical were enough to have killed them, Dr. Litha Matiwane, Eastern Cape provincial deputy director for clinical service, said at news conference Tuesday.
The teens’ bodies were discovered early June 26 at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London, a city in the country’s Eastern Cape. Police found most of the victims, ages 13 to 17, lying on tables, slumped over chairs and sprawled on the floor of the club.
The bodies were found with no visible wounds or signs of injury.
“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,” Matiwane said at the news conference in East London.
Initial toxicology tests also analyzed levels of alcohol and carbon monoxide in the teens’ blood but found nothing profound so far, he said.
Matiwane said officials are still awaiting conclusive results from a laboratory in Cape Town.
National Police Minister Bheki Cele said final toxicology analysis reports will determine whether anyone will face criminal charges in the case.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, methanol is a poisonous substance that can be absorbed through the eyes, skin, lungs and stomach. The toxic alcohol is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide and alternative fuel source.
It is not used in the production of alcohol sold for human consumption.
Previously:22 teenagers found dead in a bar. No one knows how they died.
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On the day of the discovery, police said, they went to the nightclub around 4 a.m. after receiving a report that “lifeless bodies” were at the club.
Officers found most of the teenagers dead. Two died at a clinic, one died on the way to a hospital and one died at the hospital.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday that government officials were working with the teenagers’ families to determine the causes of death and asked for privacy for the families.
“The cause of death is a very sensitive issue,” Ramaphosa said. “It is only time that will make people heal.”
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
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