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.


Court grants Shahbaz Sharif pre-arrest bail in assets beyond means case

Updated 03 June 2020

Court grants Shahbaz Sharif pre-arrest bail in assets beyond means case

  • The country’s anti-graft watchdog raided his house on Tuesday to arrest him
  • Sharif’s party leaders maintain the government is trying to politically victimize the opposition

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Wednesday granted pre-arrest bail till June 17 to Punjab’s former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif in assets beyond means case that is being investigated by the country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The court’s division bench, headed by Justice Tariq Abbasi, heard the petition to stop the country’s anti-graft agency from making the arrest since Sharif was cooperating with the investigators.
“The court has accepted the pre-arrest bail plea of Mian Shahbaz Sharif and has restrained NAB from his arrest till June 17, 2020. The court asked the petitioner to furnish a bail bound worth half a million rupees,” Sharif’s lawyer, Azam Nazir Tarar, told Arab News after the proceedings.
The country’s anti-corruption body is investigating a matter related to the possession of assets beyond the politician’s stated means of income and alleged money laundering charges.
NAB summoned Sharif, who is also the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan, for investigation on June 2, but he did not appear before the authorities and sent a letter wherein he said that he was 69 years old and a cancer survivor and did not want to talk undue health risks during the time of coronavirus pandemic.
Sharif also requested the NAB authorities to interview him on Skype and sent a written reply to the questionnaire sent by the investigation agency through its representative.
NAB did not accept the plea and issued Sharif’s arrest warrants. A NAB team also reached his Model Town residence in Lahore on Tuesday to take him into custody, spending about 90 minutes to detain him, but it later returned to its office since the former Punjab chief minister was not found at his home.
Sharif had already filed a pre-arrest bail plea at the Lahore High Court which was fixed for a hearing on Wednesday. His lawyers submitted that NAB had been leveling allegations against their client for the last 16 months but the agency had failed to file any reference against him.
They also claimed that the proceedings of the NAB case were based on mala fide intention since the agency had summoned Sharif on June 2 while his arrest warrants had been issued on May 28.
NAB prosecutor pleaded that the anti-graft watchdog had sufficient evidence against the leader of the opposition to arrest him since he was involved in money laundering and possessing assets beyond his stated means of income. He also argued that the court had previously rejected the bail plea of Hamza Shahbaz, Sharif’s son, and two other accused in a similar case.
The court granted pre-arrest bail to Sharif till the 17th of this month, instructing him to cooperate with the agency in its investigations.
“The authorities have issued arrest warrant of Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif in the assets beyond means case. The court has granted him pre-arrest bail and told the accused to cooperate with NAB. The agency will also honor the court order,” a NAB official told Arab News.
Leaders of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) reacted strongly to the development, blaming the government for politically victimizing the opposition.
“The PML-N is ready for accountability. NAB should file references against us in courts instead of arresting us. We are ready to face any charges, but the government has nothing solid against us and is using unethical tactics. It has adopted a vindictive approach,” former PML-N prime minister Shahid Khan Abbasi told Arab News.