Sunday March 26, 2023

‘Factories toxic gases caused 19 deaths in Keamari in two weeks’

Toxic gases emitted by some illegal factories operating in the Muachh Goth area of Keamari 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

January 27, 2023
Representational image. The News/File
Representational image. The News/File

KARACHI: Toxic gases emitted by some illegal factories operating in the Muachh Goth area of Keamari 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 the 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 the media reported the deaths, health department officials, along with police and district administration, arrived for an 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 the 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 had also been established to provide medical treatment. “The Director General Health, Sindh, has sent a team of investigators to probe 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), Keamari, Dr Arif-ur-Rehman, confirmed 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 adding that respiratory tract illness caused by unhealthy air and environmental pollution could be the cause of the 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.

Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah took cognizance of the instances of deaths of children allegedly due to leakage of some poisonous gas in Keamari area of the city.

A statement issued by the spokesman for the CM House on Thursday said the CM separately asked Karachi’s commissioner, Director-General of Health Services in Sindh, and provincial Labour Department to submit to him the probe reports on the sorrowful episode.

He also directed the officials of Sindh Labour and Industries departments and district administration to thoroughly conduct a probe into the incident. Through the inquiry, the CM needs to know what are factories responsible for the discharge of the toxic fumes that are harmful to human health.

The CM asked the relevant officials to inform him whether the factories responsible for the tragedy had ever been inspected by them. The CM also directed the officials to intimate him about the action taken against the industrial units after the tragedy. He asked the officials of Labour Department to examine from laboratories samples of the gaseous discharge from the suspected factories.