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The Basra Mass Poisoning – Top 10 Bizarre Disasters

The Basra hospital data

The Basra hospital data

In September 1971 a shipment of 90,000 metric tons of seed grain arrived in the Iraqi port of Basra. The American barley and Mexican wheat – which had been chemically treated with methyl-mercury to prevent rot – were sprayed a bright pink to indicate their lethal coating, and clear warnings were printed on the bags – but only in English and Spanish. Before they could be distributed to the farmers, the bags were stolen from the docks, and the grain was sold as food to the starving populace. The Iraqi government, embarrassed at its criminal negligence or for other reasons, hushed up the story, and it was not until two years later that an American newsman came up with evidence that 6,530 hospital cases of mercury poisoning were attributable to the unsavoury affair. Officials would admit to only 459 deaths, but total fatalities were probably more like 6,000, with another 100,000 suffering such permanent effects as blindness, deafness and brain damage.