A chlorine leak at 6 p.m. on 18 July, 2004, from a pipeline running between Chemplast Sanmar’s chlorine plant and its adjacent fumed silica plant in Mettur Dam, Tamilnadu, sent 23 people to the hospital. More than 50 people are reported to have fainted after inhaling the chlorine fumes. A 22-day old child, and two young girls aged 10 and 13 are among those hospitalised.
A few years ago, shrapnel from an explosion at Chemplast’s fumed silica plant barely missed chemical storage tanks in Chemplast’s neighbouring facilities.
On 11 April, 2004, a contract worker in Birla-owned TANFAC in Cuddalore, was poisoned on the job and subsequently succumbed to his injuries on 30 April. No compensation has been paid to his widow. Rather, the bereaved family is subject to daily harassment by local labour contractors.
On 6 July, 2004, a fire at an endosulfan unit in Kerala-based Hindustan Insecticides Ltd caused a smoke plume that covered more than 250 households. On 9 July, 2004, a boiler explosion at a dyeing unit in Erode, Tamilnadu, killed four workers.
Despite demands by citizens for publication of onsite and offsite emergency plans as required by the Factories Act and the Manufacture, Storage, Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules (1989), regulators have exhibited remarkable restraint in implementing the laws in a bid to protect the corporations.
As the largest private company in the small town, Chemplast is reported to have the district authorities, including the police, under its control. The company’s plans to set up a hazardous PVC factory in Cuddalore, Tamilnadu, was shelved after local residents gathered in numbers to drive the investment out. The PVC factory proposal was given a similarly hostile reception in Krishnapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, where more than 2000 local fishermen and farmers came to protest the investment at a Government-held public hearing.
The factory proposal is pending approval at the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board. The company’s powerful ties locally are evident from the fact that even otherwise independent publications like The Hindu refuse to carry articles about the company’s wrong doings or people’s opposition to the company’s pollution.
More on the Chemplast gas leak as updates arrive.