Deadly mixture

Published: Sunday 15 June 1997

Twelve persons died in three chemical explosions in Delhi recently. Methyl ethyl ketone peroxide (MEKP), the chemical compound believed to be responsible for the explosion, is used as a catalyst for fibreglass processing in helmet-manufacturing units. Stabilising agents like di-methyl phthalate need to be added to this volatile compound in a specific proportion. But since MEKP is an expensive product, the manufacturers increase the amount of stabilisers in the solution to bring down the cost of the final product. This leads to the formation of a compound which does not have the stability required for this kind of explosive substance.

In the present instance, the precautions necessary for safe storage of MEKP also do not seem to have been observed by the dealers. The chemical should be stored in a cool place in airtight containers as even a brief contact with atmospheric gases or the presence of impurities can lead to an explosion.

According to reports, the MEKP dealers did not have the permission from the controller of explosives, Nagpur, which is necessary for storing such volatile chemicals. The enforcement of this regulation is the responsibility of the municipal corporation.

Though the police have the power to book the people who are storing the chemical without licence, they are not scientifically equipped to identify hazardous chemicals. Moreover, police officials say that they could act independently of the civic agencies and book dealers in the event of storage of a chemical or a hazardous substance causing a public nuisance only if there is a complaint.

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