The report by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board contradicts the claim by the Customs Department stating that no residential locality is present within 2 kilometres of the warehouse.

TNPCB conducted inspection in the CFS where ammonium nitrate is stored in Chennai
news Chennai Friday, August 07, 2020 - 11:16

After the Customs Department stated that 740 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a hazardous chemical, stored in a Chennai depot was ‘safe’ and not located within two kilometres of any residential locality, an inspection by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) has contradicted this claim. The TNPCB released a report which found that two residential areas, with a population of around 12,000, were located under 2 kilometres from where the chemical is being stored.

According to a report submitted by the TNPCB, an inspection was conducted by its officials and the police on Thursday in the Container Freight Station (CFS) in which it was found that the CFS is located at a spot surrounded by other similar warehouses. “The nearest habitations namely Manali New Town at a distance of 700 metres in the northern direction with a population of about 7,000 and Sadayankuppam village at a distance of 1500 metres in the eastern direction with a population of about 5,000,” the report stated.

The report by the TNPCB is in direct contradiction with the claims made by the Customs Department in its statement issued on Thursday. After several reports highlighted that a huge consignment of ammonium nitrate has been stored for around five years in a warehouse in Chennai, the department issued a statement that the cargo is stored securely. “Concerned CFS is located approximately 20 kms away from the city and there is no residential locality within the vicinity of 2 kms from this CFS,” the Customs Department said in a press statement.

“All safety measures are being taken by the aforesaid CFS and monitored by the Customs to ensure public safety,” the statement noted.

As per the TNPCB report, the CFS has 37 containers, each having around 20 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which was transported from the Chennai Port to the CFS on September 27, 2015. The chemical was seized from a Karur-based firm after Customs officials found that they did not have the required license.

The chemical is reportedly stored in 25 kg polypropylene bags. The report also stated that the Customs Department said that the bidding process has been called for and the auction will be completed in three days. The PCB also directed that an inspection be conducted on the premises by the Director Industrial Safety and Health and take necessary action.

Speaking to TNM, a senior official of the TNPCB said that the inspection done on Thursday was conducted based on the instruction of the state government. “Those who were working in the CFS were not aware of the contents in the bags. We inspected and found that it was kept safe. However, we have also ordered the Customs Department to clear the chemicals from the warehouse immediately and they have told us that the bidding process will be completed in three days,” he said. Adding that TNPCB has no jurisdiction to inspect any Custom-bonded warehouse like the one under question, the officer said that it was after several reports highlighted the presence of ammonium nitrate that the TNPCB and Rescue Department police officials inspected the warehouse.

“We have submitted the report to our head office and based on further orders will be issued to the relevant authorities,” he added. When asked if there were any earlier inspections conducted on the consignment in the five years it has been stored in the CFS, the official replied in the negative and said, “TNPCB has no jurisdiction to inspect any consignment that is under the control of the Customs Department. So we generally do not inspect any CFS. Yesterday it was done based on the State government’s orders.”

On Tuesday, the port city of Beirut in Lebanon was rocked by a massive explosion caused by around 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. The chemical was reportedly stored for several years in a warehouse near the port. The blast has reportedly killed at least 157 people and injured thousands across the city. According to reports, the impact of the blast was felt as far as 240 kilometres away and several drone shots of the area of blast shows widespread destruction over kilometres of the city, leaving thousands injured and homeless. 

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