Pesticides found in deadly school lunch in India

Updated 9:03 PM EDT, Sun July 21, 2013

Story highlights

Monocrotophos is toxic to humans

It has been banned in the United States since 1988

Nearly half of Indian children are malnourished

(CNN) —  

A week after an Indian school served toxic food to students, leaving 23 dead, its headmistress remains missing along with her husband, police said Tuesday.

Forensic scientists found monocrotophos, an organophosphorus compound used as an insecticide, “in the samples of oil from the container, food remains on the platter and mixture of rice with vegetables in an aluminum utensil,” Assistant Director General Ravinder Kumar told reporters in Patna.

Monocrotophos, which is used for agricultural purposes, is toxic to humans.

An administrative inquiry has pointed to negligence by the school headmistress in supervising food preparation for the children, Bihar state’s midday meal director R. Lakshamanan told CNN on Friday.

The cook, Manju Devi, was hospitalized after eating the food she prepared, doctors said.

Devi told police that the headmistress did not heed her warning that the mustard oil used to prepare lunch looked and smelled bad. Instead, the headmistress insisted she continue preparing the meal, officials said.

Police told CNN that investigators were trying to find Kumari to question her.

Confusion, grief and despair in India’s school poisoning village

An investigation found compromised hygiene and sanitation in the school, which was running from a single-room makeshift building.

Experts have said the deaths underscore the problem of food safety in the country, and have prompted discussion on how to improve national school food programs amid news that authorities had warned months ago of safety problems with the state’s school meal program.

Authorities in Bihar – one of India’s poorest states – announced that a committee would be formed to improve food preparation in rural schools.

The Bihar students, who were ages 5 to 12, started vomiting soon after their first bite of lunch; some fainted, authorities said.

According to the Indian government, nearly half of India’s children are malnourished. Since a Supreme Court decision in 2001, government schools in India have been required to provide free meals to students younger than 13.

CNN’s Harmeet Singh reported this story from Putna and Tom Watkins wrote it from Atlanta