CDC: First Reported Deaths Linked to Racing Fuel/Soft Drink Mixture

Red abstract liquid
Red abstract liquid
The two 16 year-old decedents mixed an unknown quantity of racing fuel with a carbonated soft drink.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported the case of two adolescent deaths due to intentional ingestion of a racing fuel and soft drink cocktail.

Both decedents were aged 16 and male. One decedent obtained 1.9 liters of racing fuel (approximately 100% methanol) from the house of a family friend, and mixed it – in an unknown quantity – with a carbonated soft drink in a 2 liter bottle, presumably as an alternative to ethyl alcohol. 

Two other adolescents reported ingesting approximately 2 ounces (59mL) of the cocktail and survived. Investigators do not know the amount consumed by the two decedents, however, an empty 2L bottle was recovered from the scene. 

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The first decedent was found dead at home approximately 11 hours after ingesting the cocktail. The second decedent was transported to a local emergency department after displaying seizure-like activity at home, 12 hours after ingestion. Tests showed severe metabolic acidosis and a blood methanol level of 175mg/dL. He received aggressive treatment that included fomepizole, a competitive inhibitor of alcohol dehydrogenase, and hemodialysis, but died 5 days after ingestion.

The two surviving adolescents showed normal laboratory evaluations when they were admitted to emergency departments between 20 to 23 hours after ingestion, and were duly released. The incident occurred in January, in Tennessee.

Methanol is an organic solvent and is metabolized to formaldehyde and then to formic acid, which accumulates in the optic nerve and disc and is highly cytotoxic; 15mL (0.5 ounce or 1 tablespoon) of methanol can be fatal. The initial signs and symptoms of methanol intoxication are similar to those of ethanol intoxication. After a latent period of 6–36 hours, depending upon the amount ingested, patients develop drowsiness and gastrointestinal symptoms with more serious symptoms such as visual disturbances, abnormal respiration, altered mental states, seizures and cerebral edema occurring later on. The CDC states that the absense of these symptoms after ingestion should not deter medical evaluation and early assessment and treatment can improve chances for survival.

The two survivors reported that one of the decedents spoke about learning of the mixture on a trip to Kansas 1 month before concocting the mixture. Incidents of methanol poisoning outbreaks have been reported around the world, most recently 102 people died in Mumbai after drinking homemade methanol alcohol.

During the period of 2011–2014, there were 660 reports of intentional methanol exposure, resulting in 33 deaths, according to The American Association of Poison Control Centers’ Toxic Exposure Surveillance System. All decedents, bar 3 (aged 13–19 years-old), were aged ≥20 years old.

The CDC has highlighted the importance of parents, community educators and leaders, and medical communities to consistently reinforce the message that methanol is a highly toxic substance that can cause serious injury and death.

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