Overexposure to soybean dust likely caused Karachi deaths - Pakistan Today

Overexposure to soybean dust likely caused Karachi deaths

–Chemical report claims ‘aeroallergens from soybean dust’ found in blood samples collected from victims

–Protest held near KPT, affected people demand Rs1m compensation for deceased victims, jobs for families   

KARACHI: The International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) has advised the Sindh government to consider “exposure to soybean dust (aeroallergens)” as a cause of breathing difficulties being faced by residents of Karachi’s Keamari area, as the death toll from Sunday night’s mysterious incident reached 14 on Tuesday.

Over 400 people have been taken to different hospitals for treatment reportedly after inhaling toxic gas. Keamari residents have complained of experiencing breathing difficulties, “burning sensation in the nose”, watery eyes and itching in the throat.

A letter sent to Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani by ICCBS Director Dr Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary said that the lab had examined blood and urine samples of people “exposed to toxic aerosols” as well as soybean dust samples collected from the port area. Dr Choudhary said that while the ICCBS was still “extensively engaged in deciphering the cause of this toxic exposure”, the findings so far suggest that the symptoms being experienced by Keamari residents are a result of “overexposure to soybean dust”.

The lab suggested that hospitals should give bronchodilators and antihistamines to affected people. ICCBS also advised that “extreme care” be taken while unloading soybean containers.

The report mentioned that Spain experienced a similar incident of soybean dust poisoning two years ago that affected numerous people in the country.

ICCBS is an advanced research centre at the University of Karachi. The Dr Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research and Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry are part of the research centre.

Meanwhile, the Sindh government has called in the chemical and nuclear engineers of the Pakistan Army to investigate the ‘gas leak’ and determine the source of the deadly agent which caused the deaths.

The alleged gas leak was first reported on Sunday after four people died and many were admitted to hospitals due to respiratory problems, creating widespread panic in the area.

Nine deaths took place at the hospital’s Kemari Campus over the course of the past two days. According to the police, two other deaths were reported at Kutiyana Hospital.

Sindh Health Department added that two more deaths were reported at Civil Hospital Karachi while one more was reported at Burhani Hospital.

According to a Sindh Env­ironmental Protection Agency (SEPA) spokesperson Mujtaba Baig they were unable to determine the exact source or cause of the toxic gas, adding that there was “some sort of activity” but they couldn’t yet be certain what it was.


The area residents, protesting administrative negligence, also blocked the road near gate 5 of KPT. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the maritime affairs minister and chairman of Karachi Port Trust (KPT). They are also asking for Rs10m in compensation for each death and a job for next of kin.

Due to the protest, the route heading towards KPT is facing severe traffic congestion and surrounding roads are also affected.


Addressing a press conference along with Sindh Minister for Local Government Syed Nasir Hussain Shah on Tuesday afternoon, Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani said multiple theories were being considered but thus far the source of the gas and its nature was still unknown.

Calling it a “localised event”, he said it had been two days since the toxic gas leak started but added that it was restricted to just one locality of Karachi. Shallwani urged the media not to cover the event in a way that created a panic in the metropolis.

The commissioner said an investigation into the gas leak is ongoing and added that samples from those admitted in hospitals had also been collected. Additionally, he said post-mortem examination reports of those who died will take at least 72 hours to be issued. Shallwani said once reports are published, they can determine the reason for the gas leak and its nature.

Last night, the chief minister held an emergency meeting at the Chief Minister House after visiting the affected areas, according to CM House spokesperson Rasheed Channa. During the meeting, Murad said that it was unfortunate that the smell of the toxic gas was not receding and that people were still falling sick because of it.

Shallwani had informed the meeting that a ship that was offloading soybean or a similar substance could be the probable cause of the toxic gas. “When offloading from this ship is halted, the smell too diminishes,” he reasoned.

At this, the CM directed to check the particular container on the ship. The commissioner responded that offloading from the ship had already been stopped. However, Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping said there was no gas leak on the ship as nothing happened to the crew working on the ship.

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