1971 Iraq Poison

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1971 Iraq Poison Grain Disaster

The 1971 Iraq Poison Grain Disaster is a tragic event that occurred in Iraq during the early 1970s, leading to the death and poisoning of thousands of people. This incident is a significant example of the dangers associated with the improper handling and distribution of agricultural chemicals.

Background[edit | edit source]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Iraq was facing a serious problem with grain storage. The country's grain supplies were being decimated by weevils and other pests, leading to significant losses. In an effort to combat this issue, the Iraqi government imported a highly toxic pesticide, methylmercury, to treat the grain and prevent further loss. The treated grain was intended for planting purposes only and was dyed pink to indicate its toxicity and prevent its use as food.

The Disaster[edit | edit source]

Despite clear warnings and the distinctive coloring, the treated grain was distributed in rural areas where literacy rates were low, and the warnings were either not communicated effectively or not heeded. As a result, the toxic grain was used to make flour and subsequently bread, leading to widespread mercury poisoning.

Symptoms and Effects[edit | edit source]

Mercury poisoning can cause severe neurological damage and is particularly harmful to unborn children. Symptoms of mercury poisoning, which many affected individuals exhibited, include ataxia, numbness in the extremities, muscle weakness, and impaired vision and hearing. In severe cases, it can lead to coma and death.

Response and Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The Iraqi government, with assistance from international health organizations, launched a campaign to collect the remaining poisoned grain. Medical teams were dispatched to affected areas to provide treatment and support to those suffering from mercury poisoning. Despite these efforts, it is estimated that between 6,500 and 10,000 people were hospitalized, and at least 459 people died as a result of the disaster.

The 1971 Iraq Poison Grain Disaster highlighted the need for stringent controls on the use of agricultural chemicals and the importance of effective communication about the risks associated with their use. It also led to increased international attention to the issue of mercury poisoning and the dangers of environmental contaminants.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD