Toxic emissions caused deaths in Karachi’s Keamari, says experts

KARACHI-As flawed investigation into the Keamari tragedy continues, officials are anxiously waiting for the results of a laboratory report that may conclusively explain how 19 lives were lost last month in the area, sources told media.
The report — a detailed chemical examination analysis of samples taken during the post-mortem of three-year-old Abdul Haleem — is currently under process at some private laboratories. Sources said the autopsy was performed after the victim’s father got an FIR registered alleging that his son had an unnatural death.
The initial findings of the post-mortem report, a copy of which is available with a local newspaper, provide disturbing details about the child’s illness.
According to this report prepared by five senior experts, the child reportedly died in the early hours of Jan 31 “due to noxious fumes from factories as alleged in the police reports”.
The bereaved family had told health officials that the child had developed cough and fever three to four days before his death [on Jan 31] and had also stopped taking meals. The boy developed breathing problems that night and died within minutes, they added.
In their remarks, the experts stated: “Blackish deposits of variable intensity were observed over both knees, interior surface of ankles, dorsal aspect of both feet, involving toes and planter surfaces, these couldn’t be removed despite repeated washings. Full thickness skin removed from right ankle (unwashed) (sent) for histopathology and chemical analysis.”
According to the report, samples of blood as well as tissues collected from several body parts including kidneys, lungs and liver have been sent for analysis and the “cause of death has been reserved till the reports from chemical analysis, histopathology examination and labs (are received).” Flawed investigation
Sources stated that there were serious lapses in the investigation from day one. For instance, they said, no serious effort was made to collect evidence/traces of environmental pollution, which was initially highlighted as the cause of multiple deaths. Information gathered from multiple sources revealed that the health department couldn’t carry out a single detailed autopsy when reports about the deaths were flashed in the media. Hence, a critical source of evidence was lost.
Secondly, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency collected air quality samples after the factories, blamed for toxic emissions, were sealed. “That, too, through a private laboratory which requires annual certification from Sepa. Thirdly, there was no effort to analyse the material and waste being used and generated by the factories and see how they could affect human lives,” a source privy to the case’s developments said, pointing out one of the nearby factories produced iron ore that caused harmful gases.
Officials should have checked the presence of toxins in blood samples, which were collected from a section of the ailing population and sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) for an analysis, he added. Sharing his expert opinion, senior pathologist Prof Syed Siraj-ud-daula, who is keenly following the developments of the case, said he believed toxic emissions caused acute respiratory distress which led to so many sudden deaths especially of the children whose immunity and nutritional levels were significantly lower in comparison to adults.
“In addition, as reported in the media, several children in the village were already sick with measles. Having said that, a proper autopsy could have easily revealed whether toxic emissions were responsible for their deaths or not as toxins affect all key organs of the body. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be done timely.”

According to him, several children reportedly had pneumonia, which is also caused by inhaling toxic fumes.
NIH report
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, has released its report of the samples collected during a survey by the provincial health department.
The virology lab of NIH detected four cases of measles (among children), a case of dengue fever in a woman while nothing suspicious could be detected in the sixth sample.

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