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Just two days after large amounts of ammonium nitrate caused a catastrophe, killing at least 135 people and injuring about 5,000 in Beirut, concerns have been raised about the chemical stored in Chennai.
Where Is This Explosive Chemical Stored?
Nearly 740 tonnes of the explosive chemical has been stored within the premises of Sattva Container Freight Station in Ponneri High Road, Manali, Thiruvottiyur Taluk. This is over 20 kms from the Chennai centre.
How Did This Chemical Get Accumulated Here?
Customs officials said this large consignment of the chemical was seized at the Chennai port in 2015 from Sri Amman Chemicals, Karur due to import policy restrictions. The ammonium nitrate was transported from the port and stored in the premises since 27 September 2015 in crystallised form in 25kg polypropylene bags.
A report by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board stated that there are 37 containers, each having 20 tonnes stored within the premises of Sattva Container Freight stations.
“Deputy chief general of explosives has made a preliminary inspection to assess the safety of the materials kept here. We will take safety measures till the disposal of the stock,” said Balakrishnan, Chennai Joint Commissioner.
Are There People Living Nearby?
The customs department issued a notice on 6 August that there are no residential localities within a two-kilometre radius. But an inspection by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) on 6 August contradicting these claims.
The nearest residential locality is Manali New Town at a distance of 700 m with a population of about 7,000, and Sadayankuppam village, 1,500 m away, with a population of over 5,000, the report read.
How Dangerous is This?
Ammonium nitrate is a crystal-like white solid which is made in large industrial quantities used in fertilisers, create explosives for mining. It is synthetic, as it is made by reacting ammonia with nitric acid.
On its own, ammonium nitrate is relatively safe to handle.
The Quint spoke to Pradeep Professor of Chemistry at IIT Madras who explained that storing huge quantities of a chemical that is combustible is hazardous and should be avoided.
“One is a chemical reaction which releases the gas nitrous oxide and that temperature is fairly low, at 300 degrees. At a slightly higher temperature it releases nitrogen, oxygen and water. This is called thermal decomposition reaction,” he said.
He warned that a local increase in temperature and lax of appropriate protection can cause an explosion.
Raman Vaidyanathan, CEO of SynTech, a company that specialises in simulation software for training persons in industrial plants said the risk with storing the chemical in large quantities can be minimised.
“The risk of explosion increases by heating. If it comes in contact with fire or contamination, or in a narrow area, gas pipeline, faulty electrical equipment, it can lead to fire and then explode,” he said.
Who Have Called for an Immediate Clearance?
The massive explosions in Beirut, Lebanon showed that the impact of the blast was felt as far as 240 kilometres away.
Nataraj, Mylapore MLA and a Former DGP told The Quint how this poses as a huge risk as Manali is home to a number of chemical industries.
He said adequate security audit, social audit and evacuation drills need to be done as even “a short circuit somewhere can spark a whole tragedy”.
The TNPCB recommended that the District Industrial Safety and Health, Guindy inspect the CFS and more security personnel be engaged to safeguard the area till the clearance of the chemical.
MP Kanimozhi of DMK Called for action on a war-footing, taking public safety into consideration.
740 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in Manali in Chennai, which is a highly industrialised area is raising concerns following #LebanonExplosion.
Though the customs dept is reassuring about its safety, action should be taken on a war-footing ...
— Kanimozhi (கனிமொழி) (@KanimozhiDMK) August 6, 2020
PMK Chief Dr Ramadoss on Thursday demanded safe disposal of the explosives and suggested that it could be used for other purposes like composting.
சென்னை கிடங்கில் உள்ள அமோனியம் நைட்ரேட்டால் அதேபோன்ற வெடிவிபத்து ஏற்படும் ஆபத்து உள்ளது. அதைத் தடுக்க சென்னை கிடங்கில் உள்ள அமோனியம் நைட்ரேட் வெடிமருந்தை பாதுகாப்பாக அப்புறப்படுத்தி, உரம் தயாரிப்பு போன்ற பிற தேவைகளுக்கு பயன்படுத்திக் கொள்ள வேண்டும்!
— Dr S RAMADOSS (@drramadoss) August 6, 2020
Are There Any Plans for Disposal?
The customs officials have denied any delay in disposal. They said an e-auction has already been completed and the disposal of the said cargo will be done following all safety measures. The TNPCB report, too, confirmed that the process will be completed in three days.
. Read more on News Videos by The Quint.Why Chennai Must Safely Dispose of 740 Tonnes of Ammonium NitrateHow Delhi & Mumbai Police Stopped a Man From Taking His Own Life . Read more on News Videos by The Quint.