Initial report suspects fumes from illegal factories caused deaths in Keamari

January 28, 2023

Combustion of shredded tyres for extraction of iron from ore and melting plastic possibly caused respiratory distress, sore throat and fever to dozens of people in Ali Muhammad Goth in District Keamari after inhaling the toxic fumes for several days. The toxic fumes possible led to the deaths of 18 people and damaged lungs of dozens of others, said health and environmental investigators on Friday in an initial report on the deaths.

“Total 18 sudden deaths were reported at Ali Mohammad Goth, Mawach Goth, Keamari Town, Karachi, in between the period of 16 days that is from January 10 till January 25, 2023,” read the initial inquiry report. It added that the deceased persons belonged to different age groups.

The report, however, did not state the cause of deaths, stating that the cause of deaths is being ascertained, but the document did mention the suspicion that emissions from plastic burning and iron extraction could be the cause of reported deaths.

After three more factories were sealed for illegally operating in the area by the district administration of Keamari on Friday, a total of six factories have been shut down by the authorities. Over 20 owners locked down their illegal factories in the area and fled fearing arrests, said Keamari Assistant Commissioner Imtiaz Mangi.

Health department officials who visited the area with other investigators said that in addition to toxic gases, complications of measles outbreak could also be a probable cause of deaths, but initial signs and symptoms that appeared in the deceased were reported to be fever, sore throat, shortness of breath and respiratory distress.

“The suspected cause[of deaths] includes emission of gases from the nearby plastic and oil burning and the newly established factory extracting iron from rocks and/or post-measles complications,” read the initial report.

It maintained that the local community had also complained about an irritating smell in the air coming from two of the factories operating in residential areas of the village, resulting in difficulty in breathing and throat irritation. The report read that random samples has been sent to the NIH for detection of measles.

Officials of the Sindh health department said that in addition to sealing factories in the village, a nearby health facility in the Mawach Goth had been put on high alert and equipped with all the essential medicine and other supplies to provide necessary treatment to patients visiting the OPD.

A round-the-clock camp had been established in the affected area providing medical services to the affected people with sufficient medical staff arranged for the camp and field activities, said an official.

He added that availability of an ambulance service had also been ensured in the area and a referral system had been put in place to shift the serious patients to the Murshid Hospital and Dr Ruth KM Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi. The report read that a mobile X-Ray van with TB specimen collection had been arranged in the area and Covid-19 sampling had also been started. According to the report, health education officers of Karachi have been mobilised and deputed to report to the Keamari DHO and conduct awareness sessions among the community with the support of lady health workers.

Similarly, an epidemiology team of FELTP fellows has been deputed in the area through the Sindh health director general to investigate the exact cause of the deaths. At the same time, a team from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has been asked to be on board and play their role to detect the possible cause of sudden deaths in the area, the report read.

Police Surgeon Dr Sumaya has been requested to investigate the causes of any further deaths by carrying out autopsies. Meanwhile, health department officials said that in response to a suspected measles case and death in Qasim Ali Shah Mohalla adjacent to Ali Mohammad Goth, an activity in coordination with the EPI was conducted in both Qasim Ali Shah Mohalla and Ali Mohammad Goth, in which a total of 172 children were administered measles vaccine or booster doses.

Around 16 men, and 30 women and children complaining of fever and sore throat were also examined by the health department’s physicians. X-rays of 32 people were also carried out, of whom five are suspected to have tuberculosis. Similarly, 13 samples of measles were collected and sent for diagnosis, while 48 Covid-19 tests were conducted.

Adjournment motion

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) parliamentary leader in the Sindh Assembly Khurrum Sher Zaman submitted an adjournment motion on Friday on the recent deaths in Keamari, adds our correspondent.

This is the second time since February 2020 that people in Keamari had died or got ill from emissions in the air, he said addressing the media at the Sindh Assembly. Terming the deaths tragic, he expressed condolences to the bereaved families. He remarked that what had made these deaths more tragic was that 16 out of the 18 deceased had been children.

He stated that both the local administration and the Sindh government shared the blame for the deaths as they remained negligent of toxic emissions from illegal factories operating in

Keamari.

Zaman asked how such factories were allowed to operate in a residential area. He pointed out that former federal maritime affairs minister Ali Zaidi had warned the Sindh government of a possible build-up of poisonous hydrogen sulphide in Keamari but the provincial government chose to do nothing.

Keamari’s environmental conditions were ideal for underground hydrogen sulphide build-up, making some areas of Keamari a ticking time bomb because of possible underground combustion of Hydrogen Sulphide. He demanded that the Sindh government evacuate people living in such high-risk areas.

Probe under way

Meanwhile, Sindh Labour Minister Saeed Ghani remarked at a press conference that a few more days were required to ascertain the exact cause of deaths of 18 persons in the rural locality of District Keamari as investigations were under way.

He said the illegal factories in the area did not come under the purview of the provincial labour department as the labour department only dealt with duly registered factories.

He was of the view that such fatal incidents occurred mostly in the case of unregistered and unauthorised factories. He explained that teams of the health department had rushed to the affected area to provide emergency medical assistance to prevent further fatalities.

MQM-P’s concerns

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) expressed deep concern over the deaths of several people due to suspected toxic gas leakage from factories in the Mawach Goth area. In a statement, a spokesperson for the party said the Sindh government was not ready to provide protection to the people of Karachi, despite being in power for 15 years.

He added that the provincial government had turned Karachi into ruins, and demanded immediate action against the officers who had allowed illegal factories to operate in the area. He said that the lives of citizens were in peril and the institutions under the Sindh government were engaged in corruption instead of protecting the citizens.