Soybean dust 'likely cause' of Karachi toxic gas deaths — officials

Paramedics personnel shift a patient on a stretcher into the hospital in Karachi on Feb. 18, 2020, after the gas leak killed 7 people and sickened dozens of others in a coastal residential area in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2020

Soybean dust 'likely cause' of Karachi toxic gas deaths — officials

  • 14 people have died since Sunday night, 350 have been hospitalized
  • Pakistan State Oil temporarily closes its storage terminals in Kiamari

KARACHI: Authorities on Tuesday said that soybean dust was the likely cause of toxic gas that killed 14 and left over 300 others sick in Pakistan’s portside city of Karachi since Sunday night.
“Preliminary report has been submitted by experts at Khi (Karachi) Uni (university) which suggests that Kiamari incident happened due to over exposure of soybean dust which is known to have also caused similar incidents in other parts of the world,” Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson of the Sindh government tweeted late Tuesday.
“This soybean is in a shipment docked at Khi Port,” he added.
The report by the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), which was sent to Karachi’s commissioner and is available to Arab News, read that the deaths were caused soybean dust exposure.
“The symptoms due to exposure to soybean dust (aeroallergens) may be considered as the possible cause,” the report stated, urging bronchodilator and anti-histamine treatment for the patients and extreme care while uploading soybean containers.
The report said that soybean dust exposure-related epidemics have been reported in other parts of the world with associated morbidity and mortality.

Earlier, a government source told Arab News that the incident occurred during unloading of soybeans on Saturday evening at berth 12 of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) after MV Hercules arrived from the US. The unloading created dust which made its way toward Jackson area of Karachi’s Kiamari municipality.
According to sources, MV Hercules was fumigated on Jan. 8 at Cargill grain reserve Los Angeles, US after loading onboard with 56 degree aluminum phosphide “using one of approved methods.”
The breathing of aluminum phosphide can irritate the nose, throat and lungs causing coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath whereas repeated exposure may damage the lungs, kidneys and liver. Aluminum phosphide reacts with water or moisture to release highly toxic and flammable phosphine gas, the sources said, adding that “It is likely that exposure to particles of aluminum phosphide may have created problems for individuals passing by at that time and such unfortunate incident.”
Meanwhile, health officials said the death toll from the poisonous gas leak has reached 14.
“At least 14 people have died in four different hospitals of the city,” Dr. Zafar Mehdi, spokesperson of the health department said, adding that over 350 others have been impacted and needed treatment.
Officials at Ziauddin Hospital, where most of the affected persons were brought, said they received over a hundred patients on Sunday night, of whom four died.
“There was lull during the day and then again over a hundred visited the hospital, indicating that the gas impacts go high during humidity at night,” Amir Shehzad, spokesperson of the health facility, told Arab News.
Meanwhile, spokesperson of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) said his company had closed operations at Kiamari storage terminals.
“PSO has temporarily closed its storage terminals in the Kiamari, Karachi due to health and safety reasons. The operations on this location will resume as soon as the area is deemed safe for the company’s staff and contractors to operate.”
“There will be as such no impact of this temporary closure on supply of POL products within Karachi, and in upcountry locations. PSO has sufficient stock available, with backup supply arrangements already in place to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the POL products,” spokesperson told Arab News.


Pakistani religious party’s volunteers disinfect temples and churches

Updated 44 min 10 sec ago

Pakistani religious party’s volunteers disinfect temples and churches

  • Jamaat-e-Islami volunteers provide food and other necessities to Muslims and non-Muslims in need alike, party chief says
  • Religious minority leaders say the step will help promote interfaith harmony in the country

LAHORE: Promoting interfaith harmony during coronavirus crisis, Pakistan’s religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), has set out on a disinfection campaign for mosques, churches, and temples alike in the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The initiative taken by the party’s social welfare wing, Al Khidmat Foundation, has been greatly lauded the country’s minority communities.
“Al Khidmat Foundation has been instructed by the party leadership to provide food to the needy in these testing times and participate in the movement of disinfecting worship places belonging to all religions along with other public areas,” JI’s information secretary, Qaisar Sharif, told Arab News on Tuesday.
“In Karachi and Peshawar, Al Khidmat volunteers have helped seven churches, five temples and two [Sikh] gurdwaras,” he added.
Sharif said the party’s top leadership opined that no one was safe since COVID-19 had engulfed the entire world.
“The JI has directed its volunteers to provide cooked food, rations and other items of necessity to those in need. The service is for the people of all faiths, not just Muslims. We believe in one God who is the Master of the universe. Our Prophet was a mercy to the humankind, not just to Muslims alone. As his followers, it is our responsibility to serve all humans without making any discrimination,” Sirajul Haq, the JI chief, told Arab News.
“Serving the mosques, churches, temples and gurdwaras is a practical step toward religious harmony,” he continued. “We are trying to show the world that Islam is not a religion of extremism but teaches its followers that all humans are equal.”
The religious leaders of different faiths welcomed the step, saying it would lead to a more pluralistic society.
“It is a positive development that will pave the way for religious harmony in Pakistan,” Pastor Shahid Meraj, Dean of Lahore Cathedral, told Arab News. “There is always an initiative to begin, and this act will help start dialogue among religions.”
“We are thankful to the JI leadership for this gesture,” he added. “They helped us today and we have assured to help them whenever needed.”
Leaders of the Hindu community also appreciated the gesture, saying it would bring people of different religions closer together.
“At a time when the whole world is suffering due to an unseen virus, this act of disinfecting our temples is a good omen,” Pandat Bhagat Lal Khokhar, custodian of Lahore’s Valmik Mandar, told Arab News. “It will have a far reaching and positive impact on our society since it will bring Hindus and Muslims closer together.”
President of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Sardar Satwant Singh echoed the same sentiment as well.
“This positive gesture will further strengthen the Sikh-Muslim brotherhood,” he noted. “It is important to have interfaith harmony in the country and such steps are extremely fruitful for that purpose.”
Rights activists also appreciated the JI initiative.
“Huge respect for Al-Khidmat, welfare wing of @JIPOfficial, for doing disinfectant spray in Mandir and Church. Lead by example of peaceful coexistence, interfaith harmony and pluralism,” Kapil Dev, a Hindu activist from Sindh, said in a Twitter post.