Forklifts, which are used for moving and stacking materials in warehouses and shipping depots, might be the reason behind the chemical spill in southeast Delhi’s Tughlaqabad, a government report has stated.
Over 475 schoolchildren were hospitalised on May 6 after inhaling poisonous fumes that spread due to a chemical leak at the container depot near two schools in the area. The students complained of irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea and severe headache.
“The spill started inside the container at the Tughlaqabad depot and probably because of mishandling of the forklift used for transporting the containers,” a senior Delhi government official said.
A joint team of Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Central Pollution Control Board visited the leak site on May 11 (Thursday) and prepared the report on the incident. The report will be submitted to the National Green Tribunal.
“The report also mentions how there are little precautions at the container depot to handle such toxic chemicals. They are not prepared for a chemical disaster, if and when it happens,” he said.
The liquid chemical, which has been identified as chloromethylpyridine, is believed to have leaked from a couple of broken barrels inside an iron container, which was kept in the depot overnight before being transported to Sonepat in Haryana early on May 6. This chemical is used in fertilizers, insecticides and certain drugs, and is a known eye and respiratory irritant.
The spill, which was contained with salt and sand, was disposed of on Saturday (May 6) itself.
On Monday, the National Green Tribunal directed an AIIMS panel, formed by the Centre, to submit its report on the impact of the incident.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar asked the panel of experts led by Dr YK Gupta, the head of pharmacology department at AIIMS, to make a detailed submission on who all were affected because of the leakage and whether any person was suffering from any serious illness after the spill.
The green court also asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to submit whether such containers carrying toxic material should be permitted in Tughlaqabad located in the heart of the city. The ministry has been asked to “… clearly state whether any vehicle should be permitted in the area which is surrounded by residential population and offices and why location of the depot not be changed to any other appropriate place...,” the bench said.
“We direct all the parties in the case to specifically state whether the leaked substance was covered under environmental laws and Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 or not,” it said.
The green court also included customs and excise department as party in the case and directed them to file their reply on the issue before May 29.
It also asked officials from MoEF, Central Pollution Control Board, department of industries in Haryana and the state pollution control board to conduct a joint inspection of the Sonepat-based agro-chemical company Crystal Crop Protection Private Limited, which was the consignee in the case.
During the hearing, on Monday, advocate IG Kapila, who has been appointed as amicus curiae to assist the tribunal, said that there is total lack of coordination among the authorities with regard to cargo handling at the container depot.