Fire at Bayer plant

Toxic gas leak kills one, three villages hit

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Thursday 15 April 2010

A fire broke out at a pesticide plant of Bayer CropScience in Ankleshwar, Gujarat, on March 11, killing an engineer on duty and spewing toxic gases that engulfed three villages for 24 hours.

Regional officer of Gujarat Pollut-ion Control Board, M S Shukla, said a leakage in the storage tank at the ethoprophos plant led to the fire in the middle of the night. Though the fire was brought under control within half-an-hour, it took the plant authorities nearly two hours to contain the leakage of toxic mercaptane and traces of phosphorus tri-chloride gases. Exposure to high level of mercaptane can render people unconscious and lead to death.

Sarpanch of Sarangpur village, Basant Bhai, said there was a pungent odour in the air that morning; it was accompanied by eye and throat irritation. Residents of adjacent Jitali and Dadal villages had similar complaints. Ketan Bhai of Sarangpur said significant amount of the gases were present in the air till afternoon.

Mercaptane is used in the manufacture of ethoprophos, the main ingredient of Bayer’s insecticide, Mocap. Ethoprophos affects the functioning of the nervous system and can cause paralysis and death on exposure to high doses. “The who classifies ethoprophos as extremely toxic. Bayer in 1995 promised to replace the chemical with a less toxic one, but nothing has been done,” said Philipp Mimkes of the Coalition against Bayer Dangers. The group has been monitoring the company for the past 30 years. In August 2008, two workers were killed at a Bayer CropScience plant in West Virginia, usa, following an explosion in a storage tank due to faulty safety systems.

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