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Deaths Due To High Level Of Hydrogen Sulphide In Air


Eleven people died and four were taken ill on inhaling a toxic gas in Punjab. The gas has been identified as hydrogen sulphide.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Pollution and Environmental degradation), GS-II: International Relations (Internal Treaties and Agreements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Introduction to Hazardous Chemicals
  2. What are neurotoxins?
  3. About Hydrogen Sulphide
  4. Highlights of the WHO report on Hazardous Chemicals
  5. International Conventions and Agreements regarding Chemicals

Introduction to Hazardous Chemicals

  • A hazardous chemical is a chemical that has properties with the potential to do harm to human or animal health, the environment, or capable of damaging property.
  • Hazardous chemicals are categorized as follows:
  • Flammable or explosive (e.g., petroleum, TNT, plastic explosives)
  • Irritating or corrosive to skin, lungs, and eyes (e.g., acids, alkali, paints, fumes)
  • Toxic chemicals (e.g., carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, cyanide, heavy metals).

What are neurotoxins?

  • Neurotoxins are poisonous substances which can directly affect the nervous system.
  • Neurotoxicity occurs when exposure to natural or man-made toxic substances alters the normal activity of the nervous system.
  • These substances can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons or nerve cells, which are important for transmitting and processing signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are common neurotoxic gases.

About Hydrogen Sulphide:

  • Hydrogen sulphide is part of the natural environment
  • It often occurs naturally in some environments (gas wells, sulfur springs, swamps, etc.).
  • It can also be associated with animal farms, industrial plants, sewers or sewage treatment plants.
  • Exposure to Hydrogrn Sulphide:
    • The release of hydrogen sulphide from a specific source does not always lead to human exposure.
    • People can only be exposed to the gas when they come into direct contact with it by breathing it in, eating or drinking something contaminated with it, or when it touches your skin.
  • Health effects of Hydrogen Sulphide:
    • Exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulphide may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat.
    • It may also cause difficulty in breathing for some people with asthma.
    • Low concentrations of hydrogen sulphide may cause headaches, poor memory, tiredness, and balance problems.
    • Brief exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide (greater than 1000 ppm) can cause a loss of consciousness and even death in some cases.
    • However, in some individuals, there may be permanent or long-term effects such as headaches, poor attention span, poor memory, and poor motor function.

Highlights of the WHO report on Hazardous Chemicals

  • Deaths due to exposure to hazardous chemicals worldwide rose almost 30% in 2019 from what they were in 2016.
  • Two million people died due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in 2019 and around 5000 people died every day due to unintentional exposure to chemicals.
  • Lead Poisoning was responsible for nearly half of the deaths in 2019.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from occupational exposure to particulates (dust, fumes and gas) and cancers from occupational exposure to carcinogens (arsenic, asbestos and benzene), too accounted for a substantial share of the preventable deaths.
  • In 2019, 53 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost (Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) is the sum of the number of years of life lost due to premature death and a weighted measure of the years lived with disability due to a disease or injury.) This is an increase by over 19% since 2016.

International Conventions and Agreements regarding Chemicals

  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) on protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of POPs (i.e., toxic chemicals).
  • Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
  • Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
  • The Minamata Convention on Mercury and protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury and its compounds.

-Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

December 2023