Two 16 year old males in Tennessee died after drinking racing fuel. They had mixed it with a soft drink. The first was found dead at home 11 hours later. The second had seizure-like symptoms. So he was rushed to an emergency room. Although he received aggressive treatment, he died five days later.
The teens could not purchase any alcoholic beverages themselves. They may have known that racing fuel is virtually pure alcohol. But it’s highly toxic methanol. Beverage alcohol is ethanol. They sound similar. So it’s very easy to confuse them.
But the first signs of methanol intoxication are similar to those of ethanol intoxication. Very quick medical treatment can increase the chances of surviving the methanol poisoning.
Methanol is a powerful solvent. It’s widely used in industrial, laboratory, automotive, and home products. Methanol turns into formaldehyde. Then it becomes formic acid. This accumulates in the optic nerve and optic disc. That’s why blindness is common among survivors. Methanol is highly toxic. As little as one tablespoon (one-half ounce or 15 ml) of methanol can be fatal.
All young people need to know that drinking racing fuel can easily kill them. The same is true of any other product containing methanol.
Most states permit parents to serve their children alcohol in their home. Many also permit those under 21 to consume alcohol for religious, medical, or other specified reasons. Tennessee alcohol laws make no such exceptions.
Effects of Prohibition
During National Prohibition, many people died from drinking after shave lotion, hair tonic, and other products containing methanol. Even today, skid-row alcoholics sometimes do so because of restrictive alcohol laws or lack of money. Perhaps they can’t purchase alcohol before noon on Sunday. It’s much easier to get alcohol by shoplift such products than by shoplifting alcoholic beverages.
Some people during Prohibition falsely thought that they could make the methanol in antifreeze safe by filtering it through a loaf of bread. So many were seriously injured or killed as a result of doing so.
Resources: Drinking Racing Fuel Kills
- Fill M., et al. Notes from the Field: Intoxication and Deaths Associated with Drinking Racing Fuel and Carbonated Soft Drink Mixture. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 65, 585-586.
- Hovda, K., et al. Methanol outbreak in Norway 2002-2004. Epidemiology, clinical features and prognostic signs. J Intern Med, 258, 181-90.
- Kruse J. Methanol and ethylene glycol intoxication. Crit Care Clin, 28, 661-711.
- An easy way to remember the difference between poisonous methanol and beverage ethanol is in the names. People can drink ethanol and Ethyl is a personal name.