Time to wake up? Analysis on Chemical Accidents

We humans have evolved from a stage of hunting to massive kingdoms with their dictatorship to industrialization, globalization, and democracy. In this article, we will be discussing one of such developments, which has recently come up to the brims due the explosions that occurred in Biuret i.e. chemical accidents. In this article, the causes and effects of such accidents and explosions with the reference of major accidents in history is been discussed. It also addresses the laws which are enacted for the prevention of such accidents and are these laws implemented in the real world?

Introduction

So as humans develop, their approach in handling the livelihood has also advanced where they wanted to achieve more but through shortcuts. Therefore, new technologies, discoveries, and materials were also developed. These inventions were having short term benefits and long term effects such as pollution, deforestation which consumes natural resources. The major development was seen in the chemical industry, where huge production of textiles, soap, and paper took place. With time, this production was expanded all over the world and now has become a high tech industry with having a wide range of consumers from agriculture, manufacturing, and construction area. But as the other innovations had short term benefits but long term effects, so does the chemical industry.

Causes & Effects

Chemicals are matters consisting of matter. It can be a pure substance or a mixture of substances. The properties and characteristics of each chemical can be different, their reactions from other substances and chemicals can be different. Through science, we have come far enough and studied almost every reaction of these chemicals with other substance leading chemicals to be classified into hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals. Therefore, the chemical industries take all the necessary steps and precautions to prevent any disaster.

Chemical disasters rarely happen but when it happens, it destroys everything in its parameters. A famous example is the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. This was the worst disaster killing over 15000 people and disabling almost all the people exposed to the chemical. 45 tons of Methyl Isocyanate, a dangerous chemical used for manufacturing insecticide was stored in a tank at the industrial plant. Due to malfunctioning of the instruments in the plant, water was added to the tank, which reduced pressure and therefore, tons of dangerous chemical was leaked into the air, exposing over 5,00,000 people. This exposure had a major impact on the people residing there. People died due to suffocation, had reproductive and neurological disorders, and many other physical disabilities.

In 2005, a series of explosions occurred while the process was chemical reaction was held. The company accepted the fact that there was recklessness in the approach of safety and risk management. The recent accident in Beirut, Lebanon has occurred because 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate was stored in a port without any proper safety measures. There were two explosions, killing 220 people and many injured. A similar accident happened in the year 1921 in Germany, where 4,500 tons of Ammonium Nitrate was stored causing explosions. It is ironic that even after so many developments in science and technology, such accidents are still happening.

In 2005, a series of explosion occurred while the process was chemical reaction was held. The company accepted the fact that there was recklessness in the approach of safety and risk management. The recent accident in Beirut, Lebanon was occurred because 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate was stored in a port without any proper safety measures. There were two explosions, killing 220 people and many injured. A similar accident happened in the year 1921 in Germany, where 4,500 tons of Ammonium Nitrate was stored causing explosions. It is ironic that even after so many developments in science and technology, such accidents are still happening.

Through these incidents, two causes can be concluded

  • Improper storage of dangerous chemicals.
  • Recklessness in the administration of industry.

What the Law says?

  • International Social Security Association.

This association was founded in 1927 with a n objective to promote social security in a fast forward world. The chemistry section of the association has a clear goal to prevent occupational accidents and diseases in chemical and related industry. The association covers cause and effects of the chemicals The guidelines for storage expands from description of local authorities and surrounding, the technical and organisational measures, the type of containers in which the chemicals are to be stored to combined storage, risk assessments the working processes and operating conditions. The responsibilities of the employer, the logistics manager, the employees are also discussed. The measures which are to be taken for any failures an emergencies are also conversed with the actions in case of leakages. The association also mentions the planning and construction, special storage requirements and machinery and equipment which are needed in case of dangerous chemicals.

  • Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

When it was seen that the chemicals have become the integrated part of trading and business, the need of a harmonised system was observed. As the name suggests this system gives a standard and recognition to the chemicals on the types of hazards on the national as well world-wide level. It also provides the safety sheets and basis of harmonisation for rules and regulation on the chemicals. The GHS system is flexible and has induced many changes with time from its initial stages. The most recent published in the year 2019.

After the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, India learnt its lesson and enacted Chemical Rules in India. Below are chemical rules enacted in India:

  • Manufacture, Storage & Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989.

This act addresses all the key elements which are essential for the chemical industry for a smooth and safe mechanism. It also addresses the steps which are to be taken by the industry, if any such accidents take place. Under Rule 2, industrial activity is defined as any operation or process which includes storage or transport of one or more hazardous chemicals. Under Schedule 1 chemicals have been classified into three types, toxic chemicals, flammable chemicals, and explosives. Isolated Storage is defined as storing of any hazardous chemicals mentioned further in schedule 2.

Under schedule 2, 433 types of chemicals have been classified as hazardous chemicals. Further, under schedule 2, the threshold quantity of different chemicals and how to measure it is mentioned. Further, the act imposes duties on the authority to inspect the industrial activities[1]. Further, the controller of the industrial activity should take all the measures to prevent such major accidents and detailing the workers with the information and training necessary for safety. If any such major accident happens, the controller has to notify the concerned authority with 48 hrs[2].  The act further instructs to have safety reports and to update them regularly, preparation of the on-site and off-site emergency plan, and to every disclose information to the appropriate authority.

  • The Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996

Under rule 3 Addresses a Central Crisis Group, formed by the Central Government to handle chemical Accidents and setting up of Crisis Alert System. Under Rule 4, the constitution of this system such as control room, establishing networks in different states and districts, measuring to create awareness. So therefore, the major function of this group is to handle the aftermath of an accident. State Crisis Group[3] and District and Local crisis Group[4] shall also be formed. These crisis group shall also provide information to the public about prevention and preparedness of chemical accidents to the public included in their jurisdiction.

The Visakhapatnam Gas Leak Case

We have observed in the above section, the legal side of this issue but in this section we will analyse that if the laws are implemented or not. In the month of May this year, there was a gas leak from a chemical plant acquired by L.G Chem, a foreign company. The plant stored 1,800 tonnes of Styrene Monomer, a chemical which is stable only at particular temperatures and regular circulation. The incident caused death of 13 people living nearby and making over 1000 people sick. After the incident, the investigation happened and the committee found out that:

  • Due to lockdown, the plant was not functioning and thus styrene monomer was left unhandled, leading to self-polymerisation. This led to an increase in the temperature in the tank, which vaporised the chemical, which eventually leaked out.
  • It was further found out that the company did not have the adequate amount of chemical which could have controlled the self-polymerisation or any system to monitor such self-polymerisation.
  • The tank was also not appropriate to store such hazardous chemical.

It was clear from the investigation that the company and the plant authorities were careless to handle the chemicals. The positive thing here was that the authorities came into action immediately, and evacuated all the people possible to the exposure and there was no other severe leakage at the plant and yet there were 13 deaths. What can be concluded from this case is that, the safety measures, the guidelines or even the clearance of the plant for environment licence were not followed even after the law is enacted and neither the government considered its duty to check

Conclusion

These accidents turn like an eye-opener to the government and the world over this issue. But from the evolution of the chemical industry to a point till now, can every such dangerous, life-taking disasters is to be considered as an eye-opener? Why the government of the countries waits to execute an action only after the occurrence of such incidents? The Government very well knows about every industry which is acquainted with these hazardous, dangerous chemicals and therefore it should be extra careful to handle industries like this. The government should check the industrial activity and all the other necessary elements like the quantity of the chemicals, the necessary equipment’s to handle these chemicals from time to time.

The other major point is the duty of such chemical companies to follow all the preventive measures that have been issued. They have to realize that they work with substances that can take the lives of many, causing environmental degradation and property loss, and therefore, it is the duty of the company also to be extremely careful in handling these chemicals. Furthermore, we know that Science is Unpredictable. Even if all the safety measures have been taken and all the equipment is well versed, then also such calamity can happen. Therefore, when the Bhopal Gas tragedy happened, many experts criticized the industrialization and urbanization.

There is a positive and negative outcome of each action. We reap the benefits of these chemical industries but we also suffer the harm as the price to use such benefits. From 1921 to 2020, we do not have a solution to prevent the leaks of chemical substances which we know is dangerous but also necessary for humans. We have laws at the international level as well as the national level, the gap lied in implementing such laws and recklessness of the authorities to take appropriate action at the appropriate time and not waking up only when blasts happen.

References

  • Disaster Management Institute, Bhopal.

(http://www.hrdp-idrm.in)

  • International Security Association.

(https://www.asecos.com)

  • Independence Commodity Intelligence Services.

(https://www.icis.com)

  • International Association of Social Security

(https://www.asecos.com)

  • Sustainable Developmental Goals

(http://www.unece.org)


[1] Rule 3, Manufacture, Storage & Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules,1989

[2] Rule 5, Manufacture, Storage & Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules,1989

[3] Rule 6, The Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996

[4] Rule 8, The Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996

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