Gas leak was a ticking time bomb

120 port workers, students and firemen admitted to hospitals

Gas leak was a ticking time bomb

Chlorine gas leaked from one of these cylinders at the  Mumbai Port Trust in Mumbai on Wednesday. PTI

He, like other port workers, slept near the Bombay Port Trust (BPT) warehouse, a ticking time bomb storing hazardous cargo, 136 cylinders containing chlorine gas, for the last 13 years waiting to be disposed off.

The cylinders were empty, or so everyone, including the authorities, believed. But six of them actually contained chlorine. And, over the years, these canisters caught rust, which might be the reason behind the gas leak from one of the cylinders on Wednesday that left 103 people ill. In total, 120 port workers, students from a nearby college hostel and firemen, who rushed to the aid of others, were admitted to KEM, J J and BPT hospitals in South Mumbai.

Sixty-five of them were discharged by Thursday evening, and the timely treatment saw eight patients, who were in critical condition, recovering significantly and are now out of danger.

“Nobody is in critical condition. Most of the patients were discharged yesterday (Wednesday) and this (Thursday) morning,” Dr P P Lahane, Dean of J J hospital said, adding that due to large intake of chlorine gas patients developed breathlessness and were facing burning sensation in eyes, on face and hands.

For men like Natarajan, they will soon return to work at the port trust despite knowing that it puts their life in grave danger. “If we don’t work, we won’t earn money,” he said. At the port, the operation to ensure that other cylinders are safely disposed off continues.

“Overnight three cylinders, containing chlorine gas, have been neutralised up to 80 per cent. One cylinder is giving a problem, as its gas valve is not functioning. So neutralising that cylinder is taking time. This will take at least another 24 hours to complete the operation,” the Commandant, CISF, Mumbai Port Trust Division, Vinaj Kajla said.
According to an official press release, 136 cylinders, including the one from which the gas leaked, have been lying on BPT’s Hay Bandar premises for the past several years.
These had been imported in 1997 but the importers did not take delivery, it said. “Bombay Port Trust is checking its records to find out whether any action had been taken for disposal of the hazardous material in the past,” the release said.

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