According to South African officials, the toxic chemical methanol was the possible cause of the deaths of 21 teenagers at a South African bar last month.
Methanol, a toxic colorless liquid with a strong odor, was discovered in all of their bodies. Investigators are working to confirm whether the levels of the poisonous chemical were high enough to kill them, according to Dr. Litha Matiwane, Eastern Cape provincial deputy director for clinical services, at a news conference Tuesday.
The bodies of the teenagers were discovered on June 26 at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London, a city in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, according to USA Today. Police reportedly found the victims’ lifeless bodies, who were ages 13 to 17, slumped over chairs, lying on tables, or sprawled on the dance floor of the tavern.
“Methanol has been detected in all the 21 individuals that were there; however, there is still the 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.
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. The substance is not used in the production of alcohol or sold for human consumption.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that the government is working with the teenagers’ families to determine the causes of their deaths and requested privacy for them at this time.
“The cause of death is a very sensitive issue,” Ramaphosa said. “It is only time that will make people heal.”