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Toxic cloud engulfs school

At least 150 children fall sick after gas leak

Beximco Pharma is accused of several toxic emissions in the past few years  Beximco Pharma is accused of several toxic emissions in the past few years
  • ucanews.com reporter, Gazipur
  • Bangladesh
  • September 10, 2012
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An investigation is under way after around 150 students from a school near Dhaka were taken ill yesterday after inhaling escaped emissions from a nearby pharmaceutical factory.

Many of the students from the Hazi Kasimuddin Public School started vomiting and complained of feeling faint as toxic gas from the Beximco Pharma factory engulfed part of the school, which has around 1,000 students.

Beximco Pharma is one of the country’s leading drug manufacturers.

“It happened around 8 a.m. when parents were dropping off kids outside. Suddenly, several classrooms were engulfed by thick, white smoke from the Beximco factory. Students began feeling sick and fainted,” said school principal Helal Uddin.

At least 60 students, most of them under 12, were hospitalized.

Toxic emissions from the factory are nothing new, the principal complained.

“Ten students fell ill in 2006 and further emissions took place in 2007 and 2008. However, authorities ignored our repeated complaints and the police didn’t cooperate,” he said.

Local police chief Ismail Hossain said their complaints are being taken seriously this time, but did not say why previous complaints were ignored.

Beximco apologized for the gas leak and tried to play down health fears.

Smoke was accidently released from an exhaust vent and was acidic, which caused the students to fall ill, said Beximco spokesperson M. K. Latifur Rahman.

“There is nothing much to worry about,” he said, adding that the company would pay for the students’ medical treatment.

However, the school principal says that does not go far enough.

“We want the emissions to stop completely and the company to be punished,” Uddin said.

Shahera Khatun, the mother of one of the sick students said she wants the factory to be relocated.

An Environment Department official said Beximco had violated rules by installing an exhaust vent that was too low and which put the school at risk.

“We are preparing to visit the spot today and will take legal action against the factory,” Nur Alam, the department’s deputy director told ucanews.com.
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