Cuncolim gas leak is a wake-up call

| OCTOBER 14, 2020, 12:28 AM IST

Last week an ammonia gas leakage at a fish processingunit in Cuncolim Industrial Estate resulted in the death of a labourer in anadjoining factory and a few others who fled the scene are still recovering fromhealth complications. It has been a practice to house workers inside factorypremises against the rules, and this has gone unnoticed. The question iswhether this incident will be an eye-opener for authorities, or is the disorderinside industrial estates going to continue?

There are several fish processing firms,ice-manufacturing units and other factories inside the Cuncolim IndustrialEstate that use ammonia in their processes. Leave alone the workers in theseunits; thousands of migrant labourers comfort themselves within the estatebecause it saves them costs of accommodation, while the employers benefit interms of the functioning of factories.

For residential areas, which are in close proximity tothese industrial estates like the one in Cuncolim, ammonia could be a tickingtime bomb if not supervised and handled professionally. A major leak could becatastrophic because apart from the thousands residing inside the units andsheds, there are people in nearby villages.

In February this year, an ammonia leak in one of the coldstorage units in Haryana at night forced over 100 to hospitals, some incritical condition. In the same month, there were two instances of ammonialeakage in different manufacturing units in Uttar Pradesh, resulting in thedeaths of eight people. In August, the National Disaster Response Force wascalled in after an ammonia leak in one of the ice manufacturing factorieslocated in Patna triggered panic in the crowded residential area.

People in Cuncolim have been complaining of a toxicenvironment and foul odour emanating from industries for decades, there havebeen cries of air pollution that have fallen on deaf ears. This indicates thatauthorities never bothered to address issues affecting people. Which is why therole of the Labour Department, Factories and Boilers Department, Goa StatePollution Control Board and even the Municipality becomes crucial here. Therehave to be checks and balances in place, and there has to constant supervision.

Besides fish processing units and ice plants, ammonia isalso used as a refrigerant by industries involved in the manufacture ofplastics, explosives, textiles, pesticides, and dyes. Exposure to highconcentrations of ammonia can be fatal, and hence there is all the more reasonfor authorities to keep a tight vigil on safety requirements.

Four days later, the Factories and Boilers officials arestill seized with the inquiry into the Cuncolim leakage while a host of otherconnected issues also remain unaddressed. Given the situation, authorities stillhaven't woken up to lurking danger for people in the vicinity. The Cuncolimtragedy may have taken one life, but it is a wake-up call, and the governmentmust swing into action and tighten the systemic nuts and bolts before a biggerdisaster strikes and snuffs out innocent lives.

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