KARACHI: As many as 18 people, including 16 children, died in a Keamari locality over the past few days due to inhaling toxic gas emitting from some factories functioning in the residential neighbourhoods, health department confirmed on Thursday.

Officials said that the 18 deaths took place over a period of two weeks — between Jan 10 and 25 — in Ali Muhammad Goth, Mowach Goth, Keamari.

On Thursday, a team of health department was sent to the area concerned and according to their preliminary investigation, “the cause of deaths is some chemicals which are developing interstitial lung disease”.

The authorities swung into action as soon as TV channels started reporting the death of 20 persons as breaking news. They not only dispatched a team to the area concerned but also approached the environment department to take action against the factories emitting hazardous gases.

The officials said that a three-member team of experts from the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh comprising Dr Arsalan Memon, Dr Uzair and Dr Sajjad Ansari was being sent to the affected area for extending support to health authorities in carrying out response activities including screening and search for other cases.

Three such units were functioning illegally in houses; owner of one among three suspects arrested, says DC

The team is due to submit its preliminary finding on Friday evening.

The officials feared that the number of mortalities might be higher than 18 and the exact extent of the problem could be known in the days to come.

The health department team that visited the area said: “On investigation these 18 deaths in a period of 16 days from 10/01/2023 to 25/01/2023 includes people of all ages”.

It said that the victims, who had initial symptoms of fever, sore throat and shortness of breath, died within five to seven days of the onset of illness.

They said that the symptomatic patients had no rashes or conjunctivitis. However, the area people complained of a severe irritating smell in the air.

Community elders told the visiting health department team that two factories, constructed within their village, were emitting gas with foul odour causing throat irritation.

In a letter addressed to the Sindh environment department, District Health Officer-Keamari Dr Arifur Rehman stated that the health department’s team found a few factories emitting noxious gases and these deaths “occurred after week of these factories’ opening”, which are likely to be the cause of these respiratory tract-related illnesses and deaths in the locality.

He asked the environment authorities to provide health department with technical assistance and to take immediate action against these factories.

Sources said that at least two factories operating in the residential locality had been sealed and a team of Sindh Environmental Protection Agency is due to visit the affected neighbourhood on Friday (today).

Keamari Deputy Commissioner Mukhtiar Abro told Dawn that there were three factories established illegally in houses in the locality.

He said that four persons, including the owner of a factory, had been taken into custody.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023



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