Mystery shrouds Keamari deaths as probe remains inconclusive

Published January 28, 2023
A policeman stands guard at a factory, which is among many sealed by authorities following deaths of 18 people in Ali Muhammad Goth, Keamari, on Friday.—Online
A policeman stands guard at a factory, which is among many sealed by authorities following deaths of 18 people in Ali Muhammad Goth, Keamari, on Friday.—Online

• Health dept team collects samples from residents
• Three more factories sealed by authorities

KARACHI: After the death of 18 people, including 16 children, over the past few days due to inhaling of toxic gases emitting from nearby factories, health authorities and environment officials sprang into action and reached Ali Muhammad Goth, Mowach Goth, in Keamari district, on Friday and collected blood and mucus samples of hundreds of residents.

While the authorities also sealed three more industrial units and set up medical camps, it remained unknown what mysterious product these manufacturing plants were producing.

The official proceedings began early in the morning after Thursday’s reports about the deaths sent ripples through the provincial administration.

Over the past few days 18 people have died in neighbourhood due to inhaling of some mysterious toxic gases emitting from factories functioning in the residential areas.

The official team, led by director general of health Abdul Hameed Jumani, first attended the patients who had symptoms of cough, sore throat and flu and conducted their X-rays.

“It will take time to determine the cause of deaths here but apparently it’s due to toxic gases emitting from some factories,” said the DG-health.

“Today we have collected samples of all residents of this Goth [Ali Muhammad Goth] and the adjoining areas. We have conducted X-rays of people suffering from cough and flu and also collected their blood and mucus samples. The samples of those who show no symptom have also been collected,” he added.

He said that a team of Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) and environment department officials were assisting the health department to find out the required facts about the health problem.

“Initial sign and symptoms reported in the deceased were of fever, sore throat, and shortness of breath and respiratory distress leading to death within a few days,” said a health department report in its initial official findings.

“The suspected cause include emission of gases from the nearby plastic/oil [factories] and the newly established factory deriving iron ore from rocks or/and post measles complications,” the initial report added.

A Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) team, which collected samples, expressed its shock over the operation of “illegal factories” in the residential areas, saying they only learnt about their presence after the disaster.

“We have collected samples to determine the environmental hazards these factories are causing,” said Muneer Ahmed Abbassi, the deputy director of Sepa.

“We are checking the air quality. The related evidence and information is also being gathered from all the factories in the area. A scientific analysis of all these samples will determine the aspects related to the environment in the area.”

Amid all these immediate measures and damage-control moves, some key facts regarding the nature of production of the sealed factories, which led to this disaster, remain unknown.

Mystery shrouds manufacturing plant

The residents of the suburban neighbourhood see the administration’s response as quite late.

They believe that the tragedy was in the making for the past several months, but no action was taken.

“These factories have been here for the past few months,” said an Ali Muhammad Goth resident wishing not to be named.

“We have seen ‘foreigners’ at one of the units. They visit there. They work there and their engagements and level of activities suggest that they own one of the factories. We don’t know what they produce. Some people here in our area, who had worked as labourers, say that they produce ‘limonite’. And for that they bring huge black rocks here at the factory regularly,” he said.

It is not only that the area people have no information about the production details of these sealed factories, the authorities also appear to be clueless or at least show their ignorance about the nature of production of factories even after 24 hours of the tragedy.

“Today, we have sealed three more factories after we sealed three units yesterday [Thursday],” said Zulfiqar Daudpota, the additional deputy commissioner of Keamari district.

“We only have reports something was being produced here regularly, but what was that was not known yet. We have also collected information from the area people and would wait for the environment report before making any further moves,” he said.

The mystery pushed the health authorities to intervene.

The parliamentary secretary of health, Qasim Soomro, told Dawn that he had personally asked the institutions concerned to come up with details of the production line of these factories.

“We have also heard different things from locals, but one cannot go for any legal or official action on the hearsay. So we have asked the authorities concerned to file details about these factories, their owners and more importantly what they actually produce here which caused all these unfortunate deaths,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2023

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