Acid leak in Sterlite plant creates tension in Thoothukudi, govt says its ‘minor’
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Acid leak in Sterlite plant creates tension in Thoothukudi, govt says its ‘minor’

There were reports that close to 50,000 litres of sulphuric acid had leaked in Sterlite’s copper factory in Thoothukudi.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2018 20:49 IST
C S Kotteswaran
C S Kotteswaran
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Sterlite,Thoothukudi plant,Tuticorin
File photo of Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant in Tuticorin.(REUTERS)

The Thoothukudi district administration and Sterlite Copper both allayed fears of a major acid leak at the latter’s controversial copper factory in Thoothukudi and also denied there was an accompanying gas leak after rumours of both swept through the coastal Tamil Nadu city on Sunday night.

Some reports suggested that close to 50,000 litres of sulphuric acid had leaked although the district administration and the company said it was only a “minor leak”. Hindustan Times could not independently ascertain the quantum of the leak.

Starting in the 1990s, Thoothukudi has seen protests against Sterlite for polluting groundwater and air by releasing acid and hazardous wastes. The protests took a violent turn on May 22, when police opened fire, killing 13 people leaving dozens of people injured. After the resulting outcry the Tamil Nadu government ordered the closure of the plant.

Thoothukudi district collector Sandeep Nanduri told reporters “The process of arresting sulphuric acid leakage from a storage tank at the smelter plant has begun. To ensure public safety, all safety protocols are being rigorously followed.” Nanduri also added that staff from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Fire Safety and Rescue Department, and the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu are monitoring the situation.

“It was observed during police surveillance that sulphuric acid storage tank located in the plant has leaked. We requested, the local administration to allow the company to attend (to the leak) and take appropriate action to prevent any mishap,” a statement from Sterlite Industries said.

The company also used the opportunity to seek access to the plant so as to prevent such incidents in the absence of “regular maintenance”. .

“We are assisting the local administration to handle the situation and have offered all support to keep a vigil on the plant and its surroundings. In fact, anticipating such incidents in the absence of regular maintenance, Sterlite has requested the state government to provide limited manpower access and minimal power supply, so that mandatory safety audits at the smelter can be regularly carried out. That request is still pending. We once again urge the government to give us at least restricted access to the smelter plant. We have had no access to the plant, ever since it was suddenly sealed and locked with effect from May 28, 2018,” the statement added.

A senior government official said: “We are allowing contract workers and a few Sterlite staff to attend to the leak and regular permission for maintenance of the plant will be discussed with senior officials”. According to this person, who asked not to be identified, a few thousand litres of sulphuric acid have to be removed through tankers and the storage plants dried out. He added that TNPCB staffers who inspected the plant have said that the leaked acid is not ‘aggressive’ but has to be removed with suitable precautions.

Earlier on Monday, the Madras High Court, which is hearing a petition filed by advocate Rajni Kanth on the killing of 13 protesters, passed orders asking the state government to respond within a week on whether it was open to considering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the police firing.

First Published: Jun 18, 2018 20:48 IST