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Toxic gases from factories caused 19 deaths in Kemari: report

By M. Waqar Bhatti
January 27, 2023

KARACHI: Toxic gases emitted by some illegal factories operating in the Muach Goth area of Kemari District could be the prime reason behind the alarming and mysterious deaths of several children, teenagers and adults during the last two weeks, health authorities and investigators claimed on Thursday.

The Sindh Health Department’s initial report pins blame on toxic chemicals that caused ‘interstitial lung disease’ leading to the deaths while referring to the complaints of emissions from factories causing foul smell, throat irritation and suffocation.

Residents of Ali Muhammad Laghari Goth claimed that 19 people including 16 children have lost their lives ‘mysteriously’ during the last two weeks. Initially, they had symptoms of difficulty in breathing and within a few days, they died despite treatment from the local general practitioners.

“Four of my family members including my wife, 20-year-old son, a four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son died during the last weeks (Jan 10-25) due to unexplained reasons. Two of my children are still sick while two children of my brother who lives adjacent to my house have also died during the same period”, Khadim Hussain, a resident of Ali Muhammad Laghari Goth told newsmen when they visited the area to investigate the mysterious deaths.

Several deaths in a small area within a few days compelled the dwellers of the village to approach the media to highlight the issue, Khadim Hussain said adding that when media reported the deaths, health department officials along with police and district administration rushed to the area for investigation. Locals told newsmen that their village falls in the constituency of Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel but charged that not even a single public dispensary was functioning in the entire area, forcing them to go to private hospitals or Civil Hospital Karachi.

Muhammad Qasim Soomro, the Parliamentary Party Secretary Health in Sindh Assembly said after getting some ‘unconfirmed reports’ of a few deaths in the Muach Goth, they sent two teams of investigators including doctors, while a health camp has also been established to provide medical treatment. “The Director General Health Sindh has sent a team of investigators to probe into the reports of deaths but as per our information, some 11 people including children were sick. The health department has also sent a team of doctors to provide medical treatment”, Qasim Soomro added.

However, the District Health Officer (DHO) Kemari Dr Arif-ur-Rehman said some deaths had occurred in the area including some children and adults during the last two weeks and blamed it on the emission of ‘noxious gases’ emitted by some illegal factories, which burn plastic, melt metals and other materials to produce various products. “We have written to the Director General of Environment, Climate Change and Coastal Development Department to help us in investigating the deaths due to emission of noxious gasses by illegal factories operating in the Muach Goth area”, Dr Arif-ur-Rehman said that respiratory tract illness caused by unhealthy air and environmental pollution could be the cause of deaths. Soon after the reports of deaths, most of the illegal factories stopped working and their owners fled, he added.

According to the initial inquiry report of the Sindh Health Department,18 mysterious deaths were reported from Ali Muhammad Goth, Muach Goth UC 8, District Keamari in 16 days from Jan 10 to 25. They all exhibited symptoms of fever, sore throat and shortness of breath followed by death in 5-7 days. Furthermore, the symptomatic patients did not show any rashes or conjunctivitis, although the community complained of a severely irritating smell in the environment. According to the community, two factories within their village were causing foul smell, throat irritation and suffocation. Based on their initial investigation, the Sindh Health Department concluded “the cause of these deaths is chemicals causing interstitial lung disease.” Further investigations are under process, it said.

The district administration, on the other hand, along with police sealed several illegal plastic melting and oil-burning factories and other illegal units causing environmental pollution but no arrests were reported.