Monocrotophos is an insecticide used for agriculture purposes as well as in household insecticides

In an alarming revelation, forensic examination of the midday meal in the affected school in Bihar has found that the poison content in the food was five times more than what is found in insecticides and pesticides. Scientists found the presence of monocrotophos — an organophosphorus compound — in the samples of cooking oil and food, the police said on Saturday.

The report of investigators was, however, silent on why such quantity of monocrotophos was present in the meal. “The peak area of the poisonous substance in the oil was more than five times in comparison to the commercial preparations,” a press release giving details of the forensic report said.

Tests were conducted on samples of cooking oil, a plastic container found at the school, leftover food (rice and vegetable) from the utensils and plates, as well as other material like froth from the mouth of a sick child, water and oil from the local cold press extraction process. The samples were compared with a pesticide called hilcron, procured from the market.

“Monocrotophos is used as a pesticide for agricultural purpose. It is very toxic to human beings and other animals,” the press note said.

The poisoned food claimed the lives of 23 children of in Chapra, Saran district of Bihar. Over 50 children were rushed to the primary health care centre in Chapra’s Mashrakh block, when they took ill after eating the midday meal.

In the PHC, four children, who were suffering from congestion were given atropine — used as a treatment for phosphorus poisoning. About five to six ampoules of atropine were used at the PHC. At the Chapra government hospital, about 400-500 ampoules of atropine was used. Children were administered atropine every 15 to 30 minutes depending on their condition.

At the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), where children in critical condition were taken on Tuesday night, 12,000 ampoules of atropine had been used up so far, medical heads at the respective hospitals told The Hindu.

“Monocrotophos is an insecticide used for agriculture purposes as well as in household insecticides. It is banned in the United States because of its toxicity. It was phased out after a large number of organophosphorus poisoning cases in the US. The World Health Organisation has classified it as ‘highly hazardous’ based on its oral toxicity,” Gopal Krishna, environment and health researcher from ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), told The Hindu.

Chemical banned in many nations

The use of organophosphorus insecticides is “banned or restricted in 23 countries and its import is illegal in a total of 50 countries. Its use was banned in the U.S. in 2000 and it has not been used since 2003. The usage of such insecticides continues to be used because of the political patronage enjoyed by the manufacturers of these insecticides. Union Ministry of Agriculture should initiate efforts to recall organophosphorus pesticides, which is responsible for about 200,000 deaths annually. Organophosphorus pesticides cause poisoning by inhibiting release of enzymes. Lessons from the tragedy in Bihar should not be forgotten. It creates a compelling logic for initiating efforts to make Bihar insecticides-free,” the TWA said in a statement.

Mr. Gopal Krishna said the silence of the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee, which comes under the Agriculture Ministry, was shocking.

“It was known from day one that it was organophosphorus poisoning. The Board which is a competent agency on the subject has remained silent. They should have constituted a committee to study the case in Bihar. Why was the poisonous compound five times more? The concentration is very high,” he said.

Investigators have made no headway in the probe. In Gandaman village, where the tragedy struck, protests were staged once again on Saturday. “Our thrust right now is on collection of evidence. Nothing can be said at the moment,” Ravinder Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters), told a press conference here.