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Stench from sea: children hospitalised

By Our Kerala Bureau



A student who was admitted to the Valiyathura Primary Health Centre on getting exposed to the odour that emanated from the sea being taken to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College after administering first aid. Photo: S. Gopakumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, SEPT 17. As many as 100 children from various schools in the coastal areas of the city were hospitalised after they developed nausea on breathing some foul air emanating from the sea this morning.

The residents in the Shanghumughom, Valiathura and Thoppu areas felt the stench from early morning itself. The odour became unbearable by 10 a.m. and many developed giddiness and started vomiting.

When students lined for the school assembly at the St. Roch's High School in Thoppu, some of them started vomiting and collapsed later. Soon, the school authorities informed the District Education Officer and the Health and police authorities and 72 children were rushed to the Medical College Hospital in school vehicles and police ambulances.

According to doctors at the SAT Hospital, the children complained of chest pain, nausea and breathlessness. Five children were kept in the observation room attached to the ICU, considering their medical history, while the others were administered IV fluids and necessary medicines. Most of the children were discharged by evening.

The district health authorities reached the school and administered medical care to the students. The RDO, M. Sasidharan, the tahsildar, P.N. Venu, and other officials of the district administration reached the affected area. The Forest Minister, K.P. Viswanathan, the Cooperation Minister and local MLA, M.V. Raghavan, the District Collector, Tinku Biswal, and senior Health Department officials visited the SAT Hospital.

Panic

The caretaker of the St. Roch's School, Rocky Lukose, said there was panic when the news spread and parents rushed to the school to know whether their wards were among the children taken to hospital. "It being an emergency, we did not have the time to identify those hospitalised and the parents became panicky," he said.

The St. Antony's Higher Secondary School and other schools in the vicinity immediately declared a holiday for the day. The students in these schools who collapsed were admitted to the General Hospital and the Primary Health Centre at Valiathura.

Seawater brownish

According to F. Antony, who works as a lifeguard of the Tourism Department on the Shanghumughom beach, the smell had been there in the air since the daybreak and had become pungent as the day progressed. The beach became empty and even fisherwomen found the smell unbearable. The colour of the seawater changed and became brownish, he said.

The intensity of the smell decreased by the evening, but the locals expressed the fear that the phenomenon would recur. Y. Stanislaus, who works in a fishing boat, said a similar phenomenon was seen at Neendakara in Kollam district last week.

According to K. Padma Kumar, lecturer in aquatic biology, the phenomenon was caused by the proliferation of a non-toxic algae, cochlodinium polykrikoides, in the sea. Known as harmful algal bloom, this led to the depletion of dissolved oxygen and also choking of the gills of the fish by the organism, leading to massive fish kill. The putrefication of the fish and the algae were the main cause for the stench, Dr. Padma Kumar said.

A statement quoting the Health Minister, K.K. Ramachandran, said experts from the Centre for Marine Analytical Reference and Standard visited the affected areas and collected water samples. Mr. Raghavan has directed the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute Director to investigate the reasons for the phenomenon. He also visited the coastal areas to assess the situation.

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