THE alarming death toll from the consumption of home-brewed alcohol spiked with methanol in Cape Town recently during the lockdown has again showed how urgently the government should implement legislation against the use of methanol in paint thinners, says Tara Benn, executive director of the SA Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA).
By June 5, seven people had already died after drinking toxic homemade alcohol at a Cape Town house party. Thirteen others were hospitalised – five in a critical condition.
Because methanol deaths are often misdiagnosed as acute alcoholism, SAPMA believes that there probably have been many more unreported methanol deaths during the lockdown period when alcohol sales were banned, and that home brews laced with lethal methanol are still being widely produced countrywide by locals who cannot afford to buy liquor.
Benn said the fact that bottles of methanol, in the form of lacquer paint thinners, are widely available from retail outlets, should be of deep concern to the government.
“The Department of Health years ago announced that methanol had undergone the necessary Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIAS) study and legislation for its banning was with the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation for approval. This gave SAPMA hope that methanol would soon be eradicated from South African retail shelves – but we are still awaiting any meaningful action,” she said.
“Drinking just a quarter cup of methanol as substitute for alcohol can be fatal or cause blindness. Death would also result if a child should drink – or just excessively sniff – from a bottle of lacquer thinners left unattended in a garage or workshop.”
She said methanol is a banned substance in many overseas countries, including China, yet it is freely used in South Africa – and invariably sold without any cautionary labelling. “SAPMA is appealing to the government to urgently take action against this poison which exacerbates the pandemic threat to lives.”
SAPMA prohibits the unmarked use of methanol in its Code of Ethics and labelling, clearly warning that a product contains methanol, is compulsory for SAPMA members
“SAPMA has now for more than four years tried to have the retail sales of methanol and its use in paint thinners banned. The government should take note of the devastating loss of life experienced in the rest of the world by methanol – and it is undoubtedly also happening here now.”
Long before the global pandemic, India has had a thriving moonshine industry, and methanol-tainted illicit liquor has killed thousands of people there in the last three decades. In Europe, methanol-laced alcohol has been killing hundreds of people annually for many years with countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Poland fighting a booming bootlegging industry which relies heavily on methanol.