children pesticide

An investigation has been launched in India after at least 23 children died and 25 fell ill following pesticide poisoning at their school.

It is not yet known how the chemicals contaminated the free school meals that were served in the poverty-stricken eastern state of Bihar, although one official said the food may not have been properly washed before it was cooked.

Children had complained about a strange taste in the food, which had been contaminated with an organophosphorus pesticide.

Organophosphorus compounds are used as pesticides, which are widely available and are sold under a variety of different brands.

It is thought that the cooking oil and rice used in the dishes were the source of the pesticide poisoning.

Shortly before serving, the cook had also complained that the oil looked off and had a foul smell, but was ordered by the headmistress to serve it regardless.

Staff stopped serving the meal after children began vomiting.

A senior government health official in Delhi said one possibility was that the ingredients, including the oil had been stored too close to dangerous pesticides.

Although some reports had suggested that the incident occurred because the pesticides were not washed off the food properly, a senior health official in the country said that it would have made no difference.

There were also reports that potatoes and a sack of pesticides had been found side by side at the school headmaster’s home.

Authorities have since launched an investigation and suspended an official in charge of the free meal scheme in the school. They also filed a case of criminal negligence against the school headmaster, who fled as soon as the children fell ill.

The deaths have sparked violent protests in Dharmasati Gandaman in the Saran district, where four police cars were set on fire during a demonstration by parents and hundreds of villagers.

Bihar’s top elected official, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has ordered an inquiry into the deaths.

The lunch was part of a popular country-wide campaign to give at least one hot meal to children from poor families.

The two cooks were also affected, as one of them fell ill after consuming the food, and another had three children that attended the school and fell ill after eating the meals.

Doctors are currently struggling to treat the other affected children, although it was reported that many children died because of the lack of medicines and the sluggish response of the Indian government to organise ambulances to transport the children to hospital.

Dr Amarkant Jha Amar, superintendent of the Patna Medical College and Hospital, said: “We are trying hard to save the children admitted [here] but the condition of some of them remains critical.”

Dr. Vinod Mishra, a doctor in the medical team treating many of the children at the same hospital told reporters that as soon as the children were brought in, there was a “foul odour of organophosphorus” – the pesticide which they had ingested.

Lab results are still ongoing to determine the origins of the pesticide and how it came to contaminate the food.

Protests have since broken out in the country following the scandal.

A study published in the Cancer Journal for Clinicians revealed that pesticides have been linked with a number of health risks, such as cancer, including prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer.

In a statement, the authors of the study said: “If we are to avoid the introduction of harmful chemicals into the environment in the future; the integrated efforts of molecular biology, pesticide toxicology, and epidemiology are needed to help identify the human carcinogens and thereby improve our understanding of human carcinogenicity and reduce cancer risk.”

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