KARACHI: The air quality monitoring conducted over the past two days by a private laboratory in two affected areas of Keamari has found the air extremely polluted but the levels of pollutants — particularly two harmful gases which should not be present in the air at all — did not cross the limit where it could endanger life, it emerged on Tuesday.
Sources also underlined the need for having a multi-disciplinary team and close coordination among the various investigating agencies to find the source of the toxic gas leak that was initially reported on Sunday night in the residential areas surrounding the port in Keamari and so far claimed 14 lives and sickened over 300.
These areas included Bhutta village, Railway Colony, Jackson bazaar and Massan Road.
“The levels of all pollutants particularly the hazardous hydrogen sulphide and nitric oxide gases were found very high late Monday night near the Ziauddin Hospital when reports of more people being affected by the toxic gas leak emerged,” said an official of the Global Environmental Laboratory (GEL) on the condition of anonymity.
“Harmful gases such as hydrogen sulphide and nitric oxide shouldn’t be present in healthy air at all,” he said.
A private lab assesses the levels of the two gases didn’t reach the limit where they could endanger life
“But, levels of these gases didn’t reach the limit where they could endanger a life, though they would have long-term impact on health depending upon the extent and duration of exposure. The level of these gases was also high on Monday afternoon when we started monitoring air quality,” the official added.
The private laboratory certified by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency is carrying out air monitoring on Sepa’s request as the environmental watchdog is ill-equipped to do the task.
Over the past two days, it monitored air quality at the railway gate and near Ziauddin Hospital in Keamari and in the area of Seaview, Clifton.
According to the GEL official, higher levels of pollutants were also noted during monitoring in the Seaview area.
“It’s important to know that air quality monitoring was done several hours after the gas leak incident so we can’t say with 100 per cent surety what caused casualties unless these results match with some other evidence.
“For instance, the autopsy reports of the gas leak victims could provide a crucial link between fatalities and the gas causing death as different gases affect the body in different ways.
“The evidence would then help identify the source of gas leakage for which a team of experts should carry out a thorough survey of all terminals, operating near/within the residential areas, which are being used to store oil and petroleum products,” he explained.
The fact that casualties occurred in the residential areas gave credence to the assumption that the toxic gas/es leaked at any of these terminals, he reasoned.
The GEL report, a copy of which is available with Dawn, said: “The levels of all pollutants were found to be higher than the allowable limits (Sindh Environmental Quality Standards) when monitored around midnight near Ziauddin Hospital in Keamari.
“However, the main source of gas leakage and reason for fatalities is yet to be confirmed. The higher levels of pollutants at Seaview need to be assessed further as they may be due to local factors.”
The laboratory results clearly show that levels of all major air pollutants including particulate matter were very high; the levels of hydrogen sulphide (SEQ none) ranged between 145ppb (parts per billion) and 661ppb whereas levels of nitric oxide (SEQ 40ppb) ranged between 191ppb and 784ppb.
The levels of sulphur dioxide (SEQ 120ppb) ranged between 123ppb and 1420ppb.
The levels of volatile compounds (SEQ none) was 73ppb and 886ppb.
Murad hopes ‘mystery’ to be solved soon
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Tuesday said the whole matter of toxic gas in Keamari had turned into a “mystery” and all forces and agencies were involved to unearth the real cause behind the incident.
“I am thankful to Pak Army, Sindh police, district administration and health department who all have worked together to unearth the causes of the gas leakage,” said Mr Shah, adding, “Pakistan Navy and Suparco are conducting lab tests of the wind and samples of various oils and goods cargos ... at KPT.”
“The lab results would definitely resolve the issue,” he hoped.
CM Shah said he had visited Keamari on Tuesday night and went to a private hospital before a visit to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and met with the patients and their attendants.
Later, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Shah along with Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani briefed the media at the latter’s office.
He said investigations into the incident were going on and media would be informed about the real causes behind the leakage once the findings were furnished before the authorities.
He said samples of the gas had been sent to a Karachi University laboratory and PCSIR.
“Appropriate action would be taken against those who are found responsible for the incident,” said the minister.
He said all the relevant agencies came into action soon after the incident was reported.
“Most of those affected people have been given treatment and discharged from hospitals. Those people have returned to their homes.”
He added the provincial health department had declared a state of emergency in all its hospitals after the incident and still the provincial government’s agencies and Pakistan Navy were there to guide the people in need.
He said the Karachi Port was a busy gateway of Pakistan that was why slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had planned for the Keti Bundar project to keep the port away from human settlements.
He said chemical factories should also be located away from the city. He expressed his regret over certain statements by the opposition parties regarding the issue, adding that such human miseries should not be used for politics.
Minister Shah said so far Keamari was the only area where the lethal gas had affected its residents while reports about its spread to other areas were not correct.
He said the chief minister had earlier suggested for evacuation of the area because of the situation at that time, but now the situation had improved.
Commissioner Shallwani said the incident had affected only a single area. He asked the media not to lend an ear to the rumours regarding spread of gas in other parts of the teeming metropolis.
Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020