• Sepa rules out toxic emissions as cause of multiple deaths
• Recommends thorough probe by health experts

KARACHI: As residents of Keamari’s Ali Mohammad Goth mourned the death of another child on Tuesday, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) released its report, ruling out toxic emissions as the potential cause of deaths, contrary to what was earlier indicated by the health department.

Sources said the latest victim was a three-year-old boy, who had been ill for the past few days.

“We can only confirm his death. It’s too early to share any specific details as we are awaiting autopsy results, which will take some time,” health department spokesperson Meher Khurshid told Dawn.

When asked whether the child had clinical signs similar to what were earlier reported among the 18 victims, she said: “Yes, he had fever along with chest infection.”

Police Surgeon Summaiya Tariq told Dawn that the post-mortem was completed at the Civil Hospital Karachi. “Samples have been collected and preserved for toxicological screening, histopathology and complete blood profile. Cause of death has been kept reserved till reports,” she said.

Inconclusive probe

Sources said the authorities were still inconclusive about what exactly caused multiple deaths in Keamari’s village.

Highlighted in the media on Jan 26, the 18 deaths, health authorities claimed, occurred between Jan 10 and Jan 25.

They initially blamed these deaths on hazardous emissions from factories. This led to the police to lodge an FIR and arrest the owner of a plastic recycling factory.

Later, the health department in its report identified measles as a risk factor as “some 40 people or 81 per cent of the infected people were in the age group of less than 11 years. All were unvaccinated against routine [immunisations] and measles.”

The department’s team also observed cases of suspected measles in the community.

“Had the government officials carried out detailed post-mortem of the victims right away, the cause of deaths would have emerged by now,” Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro representing the Pakistan Medical Association.

Sepa’s report

According to Sepa’s report dated Jan 30, the department immediately deputed a monitoring team to investigate and establish any environmental contamination factors in connection with casualties soon after the deaths were reported.

The department monitored levels of several hazardous pollutants; sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matters, suspended particulate matter, lead and total volatile organic compounds.

It also conducted door-to-door surveys to compile information about types of unauthorised activities causing environmental degradation.

“Results obtained from the laboratory do not indicate excess of any parameter in air quality which could lead to casualties from inhaling of any toxic gas,” the report says.

It, however, points to “multiple types of unauthorised commercial and industrial activities” in the affected area.

The report recommends a thorough investigation into the “tragic episode by a team of health specialists” and that the health department look into the possibility of any infectious disease or ingestion of contaminated food etc.

“We have found no evidence whatsoever about any hazardous industrial activity in the affected area that may have caused the deaths,” Sepa’s Director General Naeem Mughal insisted.

When asked whether the air quality was monitored after factories were sealed at the site, he said: “Only one factory has been sealed. It’s purely a residential area where some people have turned open plots into warehouses or sites to burn solid waste to recover metals or to produce iron ore. Action against these illegal outlets is under process.”

According to Mr Mughal, the residents haven’t complained about the factories operating there for the past 15 to 20 years.

“If there were hazardous emissions, it would have affected the whole population in the area and even killed animals,” the Sepa DG argued, adding that people were residing in warehouses as well.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023



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