Tag Archives: Eloor

Chemical plant burns down – no one is responsible

On 6 July, 2004, a little after 2 a.m., residents living downwind of the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) pesticide factory in Eloor, Kerala, were alerted to a fire in the factory’s endosulphan plant. Based on varying accounts, the fire raged for between three and four hours and gutted most of the five-storey endosulphan plant.

Twelve fire tenders, including units from Fertilisers & Chemicals Travancore (FACT), the Indian Navy, the State Fire Department and Kochin Refineries, were deployed and the fire was brought under control using large amounts of water. A westerly breeze carried the thick grey smoke plume over at least 250 dwelling units in Pallipuramchal and all the way across the river to the Varapuzha panchayat. Smoky conditions prevailed in Varapuzha as late as 7 a.m., well after the fire was put out.

Neither HIL nor the district authorities initiated any off-site emergency response procedures. HIL also had no onsite emergency response, and fire control did not begin until the FACT fire tender arrived at 2.35 a.m. As will be outlined in the report below, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd is guilty of negligence on several counts. The Eloor Police has, however, registered a simple case of “fire occurrence”. No action has been initiated against the company for negligence.

The Eloor industrial area hosts about 250 industries, of which more than a dozen, including Hindustan Insecticides Limited, are large chemical factories. The authorities – particularly, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and the Factories and Boilers Inspectorate – have sought to treat community demands for information about the hazardous chemicals and processes as unnecessary interference rather than legitimate concerns. Repeated requests for information on emergency preparedness, and for the building of a bridge across the River Periyar at the Eloor ferry point to escape the island during emergencies have fallen on deaf ears.

The absence of emergency response procedures, the casual attitude of the district authorities and the industry, and the lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the incident and what it embodies is a shocking reminder that no lessons have been learnt from the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal. Twenty years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, communities and workers continue to operate in complete ignorance when it comes to the hazardous substances stored and processes deployed in their neighborhoods. Throughout India, if more communities are not being wiped out by chemical disasters, that is not because of the legally mandated precautions or policing by regulatory authorities, but by sheer chance, favourable wind conditions and the communities’ good fortune.

Read the Greenpeace laboratory report on pollution from Hindustan Insecticides Limited

To see larger versions of the pictures click here

Chemical disaster hits Kerala, hundreds affected

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.

Offers of assistance to thanal@md4.vsnl.net.in

Warnings by Greenpeace ignored.Eloor population at high risk