Sepa suspects toxic gas may have leaked from oil storage unit in Karachi

Updated 18 Feb 2020

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Funeral prayers being offered for one of the victims on Monday in this PPI picture.
Funeral prayers being offered for one of the victims on Monday in this PPI picture.

KARACHI: An initial investigation into the Keamari gas leak incident by Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) on Monday showed that a toxic gas had leaked from the terminal/s storing crude oil and petroleum products located within the residential areas.

The incident reported late on Sunday evening in the Keamari area has so far claimed lives of five people and sickened over 100.

“Today, our team has carried out a detailed inspection of the affected residential areas in Keamari and found that they all are surrounded by several storage units meant to keep imported crude oil and petroleum products,” said Sepa director general Naeem Mughal.

He added that companies periodically carried out repair and maintenance of their units and it was likely that a toxic gas leaked during such a process.

The team, he said, also interviewed the families whose loved ones either died in the incident or received medical treatment.

Sepa chief says conclusive findings will be shared in a day or two after examining samples and meeting relevant people

“The families which suffered immediate casualties had their houses located just adjacent to a storage unit in Railway Colony. The department, however, would be able to share conclusive findings in a day or two after examining the samples it has collected from various affected places and hearing out representatives of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and companies maintaining their units in residential areas,” Mr Mughal said, adding that these samples included air quality samples.

Other areas which the team visited were Jackson and Shireen Jinnah Colony.

Asked about any departmental action, he explained the investigation was continuing and that these storage units probably built three to four decades ago were once located away from residential areas but came within these localities as the population grew.

“We will ask all oil and gas companies to review location of their units as they pose danger to public health and environmental safety,” he said.

The department team also inspected the KPT and terminals including the China Port Deep Water Terminal.

Pet coke is being handled at the Karachi Port Trust in this image provided by Sepa.
Pet coke is being handled at the Karachi Port Trust in this image provided by Sepa.

“At the KPT, we saw poor handling of the environmentally hazardous pet coke on which the department will send a notice to the organisation,” he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Dr Ziauddin Hospital, which received a majority of toxic gas leak patients, said more than 125 people had reported at the hospital since Sunday night with complaints of inhaling a poisonous gas.

“Today, we have treated 11 patients including three children aged between three and 10. Five patients are under observation in the intensive care unit while the remaining have been shifted to the ward,” spokesperson Amir Shehzad said, adding that four patients including two women had died on Sunday night.

All patients, he said, were provided free-of-cost treatment.

A large number of sufferers were also treated at the Kutiyana Memon Hospital in Keamari.

“We have received four cases so far. Three of the patients have been discharged while the fourth one, a resident of Massan area in Keamari, has just arrived,” said executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) Dr Seemin Jamali.

Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has asked the commissioner to submit a detailed report into the gas leak incident.

Mr Shah also directed the authorities concerned to provide required treatment to the affected people. He added proper arrangements should be made at the Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi, JPMC and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital to provide better treatment to the affected residents of Keamari.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020