It was just a stroke of luck that the chemical leak from the Tughlaqabad container depot didn’t take any young lives though it led to the hospitalisation of around 475 girl students in the South Delhi area on Saturday. The scenes could be straight from a horror film as student after student fell ill in schools and ambulances rushed them to hospitals. The incident does nothing to reinforce our belief in our ability to handle hazardous substances.
The Chloromethyl Pyridine is particularly vile as the extremely toxic organic compound goes into the making of pesticides. There is no reason to link China to this even if the chemical came from there. The blame must lie in India’s lax safety standards, particularly in handling hazardous substances. Rules and regulations on handling of toxic chemicals and gases, whether manufactured here or imported, are fairly stringent, but it’s unclear if sufficient awareness has been created down the line to those handling the materials in storage or transportation. The 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of the world’s worst industrial accidents outside of nuclear power mishaps like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, also stemmed from chemicals to make pesticides.