Traces of methanol found in all 21 teenagers who died at South African nightclub

A body is removed from the nightclub in East London, South Africa where 21 teenagers died. Credit: AP

Investigators have discovered traces of the toxic chemical methanol in the bodies of all of the 21 teenagers who died in a nightclub in South Africa last month.

The victims were found strewn across floors and tables at the Enyobeni Tavern in the town of East London, with mystery surrounding the exact cause of the deaths.

Those who died were reportedly attending a party to celebrate the end of winter school exams, and were aged between 13 and 17.

On Tuesday, officials said that investigations are ongoing to determine whether the levels of methanol were enough to have killed the young people.

Coffins of the 21 teenagers are lined up during their funeral held in Scenery Park, East London. Credit: AP

“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, told journalists.

Methanol is a toxic form of alcohol that is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide or an alternative source of fuel. It is not used in the production of alcohol sold for human consumption.

Alcohol poisoning and inhalation of carbon monoxide have both been ruled out as possible causes of death, although traces of both were detected in the bodies of all 21 victims, Mr Matiwane said.

Many of the teenagers were found dead in the tavern bar; others died after they were rushed to nearby health facilities.

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South Africa’s police will be guided by the final results of the toxicology analysis to determine whether anyone will face criminal charges for the 21 deaths, according to Bheki Cele, the national police minister.

The owner of Enyobeni tavern and some employees were arrested and are currently out on bail as they face charges related to the breach of alcohol trading laws, including the sale of alcohol to children.

The deaths of the young people at the bar in East London in the early hours of June 26 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 people inside the venues before speeding off in their vehicles - but notably did not rob the victims.