Tests continue on home-distilled booze which claimed three

Left to right: Joel Lynam tragically passed away on Sunday morning. Bryan Wilmot lost his fight for life on Monday. Joshua Lynam is in the PA Hospital ICU in a serious condition. Vincent Summers also lost his fight for life on Tuesday evening.
Left to right: Joel Lynam tragically passed away on Sunday morning. Bryan Wilmot lost his fight for life on Monday. Joshua Lynam is in the PA Hospital ICU in a serious condition. Vincent Summers also lost his fight for life on Tuesday evening.

THE tragedy that has rocked the small community of Ballandean and the Granite Belt as a whole continues to worsen as what is believed to be a tainted batch of home-distilled alcohol claimed its third victim on Tuesday night.

At 8.15am yesterday a Princess Alexandra Hospital spokeswoman confirmed Vincent Summers had lost his fight for life.

"Unfortunately Vincent Summers passed away (Tuesday) evening," she said.

Family members still remain by Joshua Lynam's side, hoping for the 26-year-old's recovery.

Before going to print a spokeswoman from the Princess Alexandra Hospital confirmed

Joshua's condition had again improved.

"He is out of the ICU and now stable," she said.

PA Hospital Clinical Pharmacologist Dr Peter Pillans said if Joshua did in fact suffer methanol poisoning side effects could be as serious as blindness and brain damage.

Police are still investigating the Saturday night/Sunday morning incident and are conducting tests on a sample of the home-distilled alcohol.

While we will not know for sure until the investigation has been completed, the latest in a line of unconfirmed reports that might explain how this situation came to be is that the alcohol was produced in a biodiesel-making process and that the men consumed it by mistake.

Joel Lynam, 21, and Bryan Wilmot, 30, passed away on Sunday and Monday respectively.

Distilling needs caution: expert

THE role home-distilled alcohol may have played in the death of three men and hospitalisation of another is still being investigated.

Police are still testing an alcohol sample taken from the scene for abnormalities and traces of chemicals.

Some theories suggest it was methanol poisoning and others say anti-freeze could be to blame.

Regardless, this tragic situation should serve as a timely reminder to the many who distil alcohol. Symphony Hill Wines winemaker Mike Hayes, who has extensive distilling knowledge, said there were three stages to the distilling process and the first and last were poisonous.

"The head at the top is methanol and will quite often look milky," he said.

"Harps, which are pure ethanol, are in the middle and the tails are at the bottom and can also have methanol in them."

Mr Hayes said the head and tails were collected and redistilled.

"Every time you distil them they become less and less because the poisons and toxins lift-out," he said.

"Quite often spirits like Cognac and Armagnac are triple-distilled.

"In pot still, congeners can move over into the line arm and this is where methanol can move across. In continuous still, every plate has its own mini-distillation and therefore continually purifies the mix.

"The heads will eventually become vapours at the top and the tails are emitted at the bottom of the still and you collect the clear spirit from a tap in the middle."

He also said if the methanol and ethanol mixed or the head and tails were not separated properly the batch would become tainted.

As little as 10mL of methanol can cause blindness and 30mL can potentially be fatal.

Mr Hayes expressed is disbelief at the extent of the incident.

"This is an absolutely tragic situation that has certainly affected the whole Ballandean community," he said.

"I send my deepest condolences to the families involved.

"We shouldn't be looking for blame but just educating people about how dangerous alcohol can be. All alcohol should be treated with respect."

Southern Downs Regional Council manager environment services Tim O'Brien said that home-brewing and home-distilling is a legal activity if it is for your own use.

"It is not legal if the premises are being used for home-brewing for sale or in exchange for goods," he said.

"This is not allowed under the council's Planning Scheme and a Federal Government ruling in relation to taxation."

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