1971 Iraq Poison Grain Disaster

The 1971 Iraq poison grain disaster was a mass methylmercury poisoning incident that began in late 1971. Grain treated with a methylmercury fungicide and never intended for human consumption was imported into Iraq as seed grain from Mexico and the United States. Due to a number of factors, including foreign-language labelling and late distribution within the growing cycle, this toxic grain was consumed as food by Iraqi residents in rural areas. People suffered from parathesia (numbness of skin), ataxia (lack of coordination of muscle movements) and loss of vision, symptoms similar to those seen when Minamata disease affected Japan. The recorded death toll was 650 people, but figures at least ten times greater have been suggested. The 1971 poisoning was the largest mercury poisoning disaster when it occurred, with cases peaking in January and February 1972 and stopping by the end of March.

Reports after the disaster recommended tighter regulation, better labelling and handling of mercury-treated grain, and wider involvement of the World Health Organization in monitoring and preventing poisoning incidents. Investigation confirmed the particular danger posed to fetuses and young children.

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1971 Iraq Poison Grain Disaster - Effects
... Data from Iraq have confirmed that methylmercury can pass to a child in utero, and mercury levels were equal to or higher in the newborn child than in the mother ... regulation and enforcement, and the setting up of national poison control centres ...

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