Medscheme poisoning 'a total mystery'

Police now suspect foul play following what appeared to be insecticide poisoning at two Medscheme buildings in Florida, Johannesburg on Friday of last week and again on Monday.

About 80 employees had to be taken to hospital on Monday after many of them suffered symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

Johannesburg emergency services spokesperson Malcolm Midgley said most of those taken to hospital experienced only minor problems and were discharged within hours. He said the matter was no longer being investigated by his unit as foul play was now suspected. The matter had been handed over to the police.

Captain Tshisikhawe Ndou, spokesperson for the West Rand police, confirmed foul play was suspected although he said there were no firm leads at this stage.

He said further tests would be conducted at the premises.
“There are no suspects at this point,” said Ndou. “We are hoping some member of the public can assist us with information.”

He said the explosives unit was handling the investigation as they were trained to deal with chemicals. “They don’t just handle bombs,” said Ndou. A case of attempted murder had been opened.

Gary Taylor, a director at Medscheme, said all the hospitalised employees had been discharged except for five, one of whom was being treated for a heart condition.

He said the whole saga was a complete mystery and was compounded by the fact that workers in a nearby building were experiencing health problems on Tuesday. “The question is how could this spread between three buildings—why would there be foul play along a street?”

“No one can point to any localised cause. We thought maybe it was a cleaner using chemicals or someone cleaning plants. We thought maybe there were CFCs in air conditioning but practically everything we’ve looked at has been ruled out. It’s a total mystery.

“The question is what is it, how did it get there and is it the same problem as at the next building (not owned by Medscheme) where they have gastro problems?”

He said his company had set up two medical units to keep an eye on things at their buildings and welcomed the police investigation. However, he did not believe foul play was involved. - Sapa

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