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SIPCOT fire fumes toxic: NGO study

By Our Correspondent
Deccan Chronicle
Friday 30 June 2006

Chennai, June 29: A study by an NGO of the fumes released after a recent fire at an abandoned factory at the SIPCOT Industrial Estate in Cuddalore has revealed that at least four of the 10 harmful chemicals and one carcinogen exceeded the levels of safety prescribed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to local residents, toxic materials stored at the abandoned Indag Coromandel Factory in Cuddalore caught fire on May 22 at around 4 pm. The fire was put off only after four hours even as the residents panicked.

Lakshmi (35), wife of Rajiv reportedly fainted, choked by the smoke that spread to nearby villages. She was later admitted to a nearby hospital. Residents also complained of eye irritation, dizziness and headache as a result of exposure to smoke.

"There was a strong acidic odour and the smoke carried as far as the Cuddalore Old Town about 3 km from chemical complex. The fire services were afraid to use water to to extinguish the fire as they did not know if any harmful chemicals had caused it," said S. Ramanathan, local activist, SIPCOT Community Environmental Monitoring Committee. Social activists in the area point out that companies that use hazardous chemicals as raw material abandon them at SIPCOT premises. With Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board turning a blind eye to the problem, the issue continues to pose serious health hazards.

"Besides Indag, hazardous wastes are stored in several other closed units. This is the second fire in two years caused due to inflammation of toxic materials. So we decided to take an air sample and test it for harmful chemicals," said Shweta Narayanan, coordinator, Community Environmental Monitoring. According to the report, as many as 10 harmful chemicals detected at least four chemicals including hydrogen sulphide, carbonyl sulphide and carbon disulphide were present in quantities five to 10 times greater than the safety levels imposed by the US agency.

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