23 Students Fatally Poisoned by Pesticides in India

Twenty-three students in India were fatally poisoned last week by school lunches contaminated with organophosphate-based pesticides. The children—all between the ages of five and 12—immediately became ill after eating a meal of rice and potato curry in Chapra, located in the impoverished eastern state of Bihar, India. Twenty-four other children and the school cook are being treated at Patna Medical College and Hospital.

“It seems organophosphorus was mixed in the food,” said Dr. Amarkant Jha Amar. “The quantity was huge, which is why we’ve seen such devastating effects.”

According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, organophosphates are the most common pesticide in the U.S. An estimated 73 million pounds of the chemical was sprayed on American crops in 2001.

According to authorities, the school cook notified the school principal that the oil used for food preparation seemed unusual, but the principal told the cook to use it anyway. The principal fled the school as children started to become sick.

The school lunches were provided as part of the federally-funded Mid-Day Meal Scheme, intended to provide nutrition for India’s poorest children. The program feeds approximately 120 million school children.

As the people of Chapra begin the mourning process, authorities continue to investigate the causes of this tragedy.