21 Indian Children Die After Eating School Lunch: Pesticide Poisoning?

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Bihar, India is where the contaminated lunch occurred. Image by Maverick.Mohit.

Just north of Patna, in Bihar,India at least 21 children died and more than two dozen are sick after eating a school lunch, reports USA Today News.

The lunch was tainted with an insecticide and it remains unclear at the time as to how the school lunch became contaminated.

India School Tragedy: What Was In The Lunch?

The children who became ill on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 were between the ages of eight and 11 years old. The children became ill shortly after eating their lunch which consisted of rice, lentils, soybeans, and potatoes. The school workers immediately stopped serving the lunch.

Twenty-six children and the school cook were hospitalized and another 21 children died.

Authorities registered a case of criminal negligence against the head schoolmaster who left the scene as soon as the children started becoming ill.

After a preliminary investigation, authorities said that the food contained organophosphate, which is used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops and believed that the kitchen workers did not wash the rice before serving. However, local villagers said that the problem seemed to be from the soybeans and potatoes, and not the rice.

What is Organophosphate?

Organophosphates are similar to the chemical warfare agents used in World War II and remain the most toxic and the most common insecticides used today, according to the Pesticide Action Network. Organophosphates work by disrupting and causing harm to the brain and nervous system of insects – and humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have been exposed to organophosphates may show the following signs and symptoms:

  • excessive respiratory and oral secretions
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • sweating
  • altered mental status
  • generalized weakness that can lead to paralysis and respiratory arrest

The Illinois Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness Center reports that the likelihood of organophosphates killing someone depends on a number of factors including the type of chemical the person comes into contact with, the concentration of exposure, and the length of time someone is exposed. Those who are exposed to a highly concentrated solution or through a large amount in the air are most likely to have severe symptoms that can result in death.

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