Three pharma units under scanner for exposing workers to polyacrylate hazard

Gujarat High court directs medical check-up of all employees

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Tuesday 08 May 2012

The Gujarat High Court has directed that all employees handling polyacrylate dust material at three pharmaceutical units in Gandhinagar district should undergo complete health check at the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) in Ahmedabad.

Polyacrylate dust is mainly used as a binding agent but exposure to it can lead to fibrosis and lung failure. The dust also settles in the pulmonary tract which may affect the functioning of the heart. So far, four people working in a Mehsana-based pharmaceutical unit have died of these diseases. According to a report by NIOH released in August 2011, the fine hygroscopic dust was found sticking to the fingers of the workers diagnosed with the disease. There are around 3,500 pharma units in the state.

The matter came to light after the Department of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), which has been asked by the court to investigate the hazardous units on November 27, 2011, found that three pharmaceutical units were manufacturing polyacrylate.  The three units are Vikram Thermo (India) Ltd and Shree Chemicals at Chhatral and Maruti Chemicals in Rakanpur.

The hue and cry over polyacrylate  started with the death of a 23-year-old woman worker from Kadi village, Alka Thakore. She died of fibrosis in August 2010. Thakore was employed in pharmaceutical company Coral Pharma in Mehsana district. Later, another worker, Bhavesh Patel (26), from the same village died after a prolonged illness in October, he had similar symptoms.

Following their deaths, a Vadodara-based non-profit, Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC) wrote to the court seeking its intervention. The court took cognisance of the letter in November, and converted it into a public-interest petition. It directed NIOH to survey the units to conduct medical check-ups and DISH to survey all hazardous units and take stock of the safety measures in place for workers.

NIOH conducted tests on 84 workers from Coral Pharma and found 30 per cent of the workers were suffering from lung failure.



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