top of page

The Lowdown Hub

Methanol found in bodies of 21 teens who died in South African nightclub

The coffins of 21 teenagers who died at a nightclub last month are seen during a funeral in East London, South Africa, on July 6, 2022. (AP)

Traces of methanol — a colorless and highly toxic liquid — were detected in the bodies of all 21 teenagers who were found dead at a South African nightclub last month, as an investigation continues into the cause of the mysterious deaths that stunned the community. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia's war in Ukraine.

Government officials and members of the police service and the Health Department said at a news conference Tuesday that while the substance was detected in the blood samples of all the teens, experts were assessing the methanol levels to determine whether the amounts were “lethal” or “nonlethal.”

Litha Matiwane, the Eastern Cape provincial deputy director for clinical service, said initial tests ruled out alcohol and carbon monoxide poisoning as possible causes of death and that officials were awaiting more conclusive results from a laboratory in Cape Town.

The victims, who were between the ages of 13 and 17, were found slumped over tables and chairs inside the Enyobeni Tavern in the coastal city of East London on June 26. Initial reports suggested a stampede may have been to blame, although officials later said they believed the victims had inhaled or ingested a toxic substance. No obvious signs of injury were present.

The deaths sparked debate throughout the country over underage drinking at taverns in South Africa’s Black townships, which are plagued by poverty, high unemployment and a lack of basic services in a legacy of apartheid. The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18.

Yonela Dekeda, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Cape Health Department, told The Washington Post that the initial test results were “not conclusive.”

“There are more tests that are being done to identify exactly what the cause of death was,” she said. “We can’t say at this stage where they got the methanol, whether it was through liquor or something else. That is still unknown.”

Carine Marks, Director of the Tygerberg Poison Information Center which advises heath professionals and the public on how to deal with acute poisonings, told The Post it was “not possible to tell if a toxic methanol ingestion occurred” at this stage.