About 50 people, including children, from Dongricha Pada village were hospitalised on Tuesday after they inhaled the poisonous ammonia gas, which leaked from the cold storage of a company in the Taloja MIDC area.
The gas leak happened at around 7am from the cold storage of Naik Oceanic Pvt Ltd due to a technical problem. First to be affected were the workers of the cold storage unit, which stores sea food.
Kulbati Rathor, a worker with the company, said, “We were packing fish in the morning when a senior officer started shouting, asking us to run out.” According to Rathor, it was while they were running out that they got a strange smell. “Later, we learnt that the smell was due to ammonia leak.”
Locals of Dongricha Pada, which houses around 2,000 people and is located behind the company site, experienced bouts of nausea, giddiness and some even fell unconscious as the gas spread. “There was smoke all over. Some people, who had gone to answer nature’s call, even fell unconscious in the toilets,” said Uday Kumar, a Dongricha Pada resident. “As situation worsened, the affected people were rushed to MGM Hospital in Kamothe and to other local hospitals.”
Later, angry villagers pelted stones and smashed windowpanes of the security cabin of the unit and also damaged some vehicles belonging to the company.
“The gas leak was so much that it even burnt leaves of some trees in the area,” said Dhananjay Patil, another local. “The companies in the area keep emitting gases and no action is taken against them.” The locals are now demanding better safety measure and compensation for all affected by Tuesday’s leak.
The police and firemen from the Taloja fire department rushed to the spot to bring the situation under control. The village was evacuated to prevent further casualties and policemen were stationed in the village to avoid any untoward incident.
“An FIR has been lodged and we have already started an investigation to find out who was responsible for the mishap,” said Ankush Shinde, deputy commissioner of police.
The fire personnel checked the entire company campus to see if any more workers were trapped inside. “Though exact cause of the leak is not yet known, we suspect that improper maintenance of the heat exchanger could be the reason for it,” said RH Gharat, sub-officer of MIDC fire station at Taloja.
No officials from Naik Ocea-nic Pvt Ltd were available for comments.
According to officials from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), the amount of leak and concentration was yet to be ascertained but the exposure was not major. “Investig-ations are on,” said Bharat Nimbarte, regional officer, who was present at the site. “The exposure to gas was not too much. We need the factory workers to be back so they can recount what happened.”
According to experts, exposure to 50 parts per million (ppm) (50 milligrams per kg) is considered safe and there is danger when it reaches 500ppm (see box). Unlike chlorine gas, inhaling small quantities of ammonia is not harmful to humans, said experts.
“Ammonia is a friendly gas,” said Professor BN Thorat, chemical engineering department, Institute of Chemical Technology, Matunga. “Ammonia can be easily neutralised in water. The water can then be treated with some acid to convert it into salt.”