Massive fire in the Hindustan Insecticides Limited Factory in Eloor, Kerala burns down Endosulfan plant. Hundreds of people living around face severe health problems.
This incident, which happened in the early hours of 6 July is nowhere mentioned in any of the major Indian or international news media. The Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi (PMVS – Periyar River Anti-Pollution Committee) activist V. V. Purushan has just us sent this on-the-spot account.
“Eloor, Tuesday 6 July 2004. This morning at around 2 am a fire started in the Hindustan Insecticides Limited factory and within hours the whole endosulfan plant burnt down. Toxic gases and smoke spread all over Eloor, Pallipurachal and Chowka North End as well as to the Varapuzha Panchayath area, affecting hundreds of people. People living in the Pallipurachal area rushed to the Eloor Ferry and crossed the river in fear and helplessness. Many people were running with small babies to escape from the toxic smoke. It was by sheer luck that a major tragedy of casualties did not happen. From 2 o’clock onwards the people of Eloor North and Pallipurachal area were almost resigned to their fate and expecting tragedy to strike them, even as the factory continued to burn. The HIL management said that plant has not been badly affected and that only a small quantity of toluene, a little bit of endosulfan and some rubber sheets were burnt. Whatever company officials say, in the community people are suffering serious health problems. An 8-member doctors team has come to assess the situation and given immediate medical help under the Additional District Magistrate, who was the first senior official to reach the site, nearly 8 hours after the incident. About 200 people have been given initial medical assistance. One 16- year old girl has been admitted after she developed convulsions, chest pain and dizziness. Even as I am writing this, the doctors are continuing their check up (3.30 pm). We know and we are expecting serious long term health problems due to this disaster.”
The Eloor Industrial Area hosts about 250 industries of which there are more than a dozen large chemical factories. This particular factory the Hindustan Insecticides Limited has been in the eye of the storm for quite some time now. In 1999, Greenpeace surveyed and sampled the factory outskirts, especially a stream coming out of the factory into the community water body and the river and found 111 chemicals of which 39 were hazardous organochlorine compounds including DDT and metabolites, endosulfan and metabolites and their degradation products. This plant is the only plant in India which produces DDT (a persistent organic pollutant ) and endosulfan as well as dicofol.
In 2003, Greenpeace again conducted a study in the area and found that the community living in the area were badly affected and that the probabilities of falling ill with various diseases were much higher than normal control values. The community under the banner of the PMVS had been demanding the right to Information on the hazardous chemicals used, processed and manufactured by the factories in the area and has also been demanding that factories implement a disaster management plan and an emergency response system. All these demands have fallen on the dead ears of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board, the Factories & Boilers Department and the State Health & Industries Department. The industries in the area and their managements have been completely ignoring the community demands, as they know that local people are dependent on the factories and will not go over their heads to stop them. In the last three years there have been frequent gas leaks and accidents, especially from Merchem, a privately owned factory producing some fungicides and FACT, a major fertilizer company.
Eloor itself is situated in between the river and amidst factories and the 30,000 odd people living in the area has literally no way of escape except to jump into the river or get ferries (if they are the lucky ones ) if such incidents occur. Even in this case, while about 200 people could ferry across, more than double that number was stranded with their fate on the banks of the river. While more from the area is coming, we here are shocked because we understand that the thermal degradation products of Endosulfan , HCCP and Toluene could be highly corrosive and toxic HCl, Chlorine gases and Phosgene. It is also felt that burning of Organochlorine products could be producing Dioxins and Furans, which could make matters worse. More will be added as and when we receive news. And please do get back with whatever information or technical support that you can offer.
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Warnings by Greenpeace ignored.Eloor population at high risk