Tamil Nadu Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Siva V Meyyanathan, announced on Wednesday, December 27, that the state government has ordered a temporary shutdown of the Coromandel International Limited, a fertiliser manufacturing facility in Chennai’s Ennore, owned by the Murugappa Group. The order comes in the wake of an ammonia gas leak from the facility that resulted in the hospitalisation of 42 residents from fishing hamlets in Ennore being hospitalised.
The leak occurred on the night of December 26, causing widespread panic as many residents suffered eye irritation, breathing difficulties and some fainted. One resident whom TNM spoke to said that a person had suffered bleeding from the nose and ears. Residents of Chinnakuppam, Periyakuppam, Ernavur and other neighbouring hamlets were among those badly affected.
Police and government authorities rushed to the spot after complaints from residents and many were evacuated to temporary accommodations 1o kilometres away from the site of the leak. Those suffering medical conditions were admitted to the Stanley Medical College and Hospital and to Aakash Hospital, where they were visited by state minister for Health and Family Welfare Ma Subramanian.
The Coromandel International Limited facility produces 4 lakh tonnes/annum of Ammonium Phosphate Potash Sulphate (APPS), a type of fertiliser, and ammonia is one of the raw materials. At around 11:45 pm, the pressure in the pipelines on the sea bed transporting ammonia dropped. Workers at the facility also noticed a pungent odour and gas bubbles were discovered from a pipeline near the shore.
According to a report by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), a seawater sample at the point of the pipeline leakage was collected at 3.49 am. The ammonia level in the seawater was found to be 49 mg/litre as against the marine discharge standard of 5 mg/litre. The TNPCB team also found that the ammonia level in the ambient air was at 2,090 micrograms per cubic metre as against the mandated 400 micrograms per cubic metre for a 24-hour average.
Meanwhile, angry residents from Chinnakuppam, Periyakuppam and other fishing villages staged a protest on December 27, demanding that the state government permanently shut down the Coromandel facility. These residents, it may be noted, are already struggling with the impacts of an oil spill caused by Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL), that has had a devastating effect on the marine life and the livelihoods of the fishermen.