Tis Hazari bikers may have been killed by phenol, say police
Phenol could be the chemical that caused the death of three men whose bike skidded over some liquid spilled on the main road near Tis Hazari court on Saturday morning.
Police said the owner of the truck, from which they suspect the chemical could have leaked, has claimed that the chemical was phenol and was being transported from Gujarat to Haryana.
Investigators said that the post mortem reports of the men suggests they could have died due to inhaling fumes of phenol or because the chemical entered their bodies through skin. However, senior officers said that for the final opinion, viscera report is still awaited.
The accident took place on Saturday when Usmanpur resident Monu Sharma (22) was riding towards outer Delhi’s Nangloi along with Mahesh Chand (23) and Shivam Lal (21). They were out to attend a friend’s wedding. At around 5.30am onn Saturday, close to the Tis Hazari Court, the rider lost control of the motorcycle. It is not known whether they were wearing helmets. While Chand and Lal died on Saturday, Sharma succumbed on Monday.
Deputy commissioner of police (north) Monika Bhardwaj said that after scanning CCTV footages they had identified the truck and traced its owner by Monday. The truck owner told us that the vehicle was transporting Phenol from Gujarat to Haryana. Probe revealed that the truck never made it to its destination and a search for the driver is underway, the officer said. How the chemical spilled on the road is yet to be ascertained.
A sample of the chemical was collected from the spot on Saturday and it was sent to forensic labs to ascertain its properties. Police said phenol is a chemical used in households mostly as disinfectants and also has industrial use in making plastics. It is also used in pharmaceuticals. It is corrosive and may cause severe burns or may even be fatal if ingested or if it penetrates the skin, they said.
Officers investigating the deaths said that according to the preliminary autopsy reports, which the HT has accessed, the men had chemical burn injuries involving about 22-25% of body surface area. Apart from the burns, the report reads that the men died of “brain edema (swelling in brain due to trapped fluid), cyanosis of organs (low oxygen supply to organs causing a bluish tinge), pulmonary consolidation (a region of normally compressible lung tissue that has filled with liquid instead of air), haemolysis (rupture or destruction of red blood cells) and pleural and peritoneal effusion(build up of fluid in membranes and abdominal cavity).”
However, the report further says that a final opinion regarding cause of death will be given after receipt of viscera-chemical analysis report.
A senior doctor from a Central government hospital’s burns department, who did not wish to be identified, said that chemical burns due to exposure to phenol could turn fatal depending on the quantity and concentration of the compound.
“If inhaled, for example, the fumes could burn the trachea and choke the respiratory system causing death. Chemical burns is different from fire-related burns and is technically called chemical injury that can cause death,” the doctor said.
“Chemical injuries act differently, and chemical burns covering about 25% of the body surface area could be quite critical,” he added.
The lungs of the victims also showed consolidation (filled with fluid) that could also be result of the injury.
“Lung’s secrete fluid as a reaction to inhaling toxins. That’s their defence mechanism. If inhaled in large quantity, the fumes can also lead to lung collapse,” said Dr Vikas Maurya, senior pulmonary specialist, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
The brain edema (swelling) that the autopsy report mentions could be a result of decreased oxygen supply to the brain.
“Inhaling fumes may not have directly caused brain edema but because lungs were affected it could have resulted in decreased oxygen supply. So, indirectly it may have led to death,” says Dr Deepak Agrawal, professor, neurosurgery, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.