Around 900 tanker lorries pass through city daily

The city and its suburbs are becoming highly vulnerable to chemical disasters because of the lackadaisical way in which hazardous chemicals, fuel etc., are stored and transported, the Association for Environmental Protection has said.

Careless handling of these substances has become the norm, especially since many crew members of lorries that carry them have not been trained in preventing and tackling accidents. Recent accidents like the one at Kundanoor on the NH 47 bypass after a tanker lorry carrying ammonia to the FACT hit another lorry and overturned, show that such chemicals must be transported through safer and economical waterways.

The bad condition of roads and heavy traffic makes the situation even more worrisome, said Prof. S. Sitaraman, the Association's secretary. A tanker lorry accident at Karunagapally had claimed nine lives a few months ago.

“People would not be able to come anywhere within a of the accident site if ammonia leaks. Anyone who inhales it would begin to bleed from the nose. Still, Kochi alone has around 40 bullet tankers that transport ammonia. This is apart from the around 800 fuel tankers that criss-cross the city and the around 50 lorries that regularly transport acids, phenol, rubber chemicals, radio-active substances, benzene etc., through busy roads every day. Many of the lorries are ill-maintained. This apart, mandatory care is not taken when storing these chemicals and gases in locations around the city,” said C M Joy, president of the organisation.

Instead of importing ammonia and transporting it to FACT, it can be manufactured at the factory itself, said Prof Sitaraman. It is still a mystery why the waterways around Kochi are not being used to ferry such chemicals. The District Administration, the Motor Vehicles' Department and other agencies must ensure that provisions of the Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986 are enforced, he said.

The activists pointed out that excess use of phenol and other chemicals have been contaminating ground water sources in the State.

Crisis-management teams must be stationed in different parts of the city, since traffic snarls delay their reaction time.

The Ernakulam RTO, C. G. Michael said that only drivers who have attended a three-day hazardous-goods training course organised by authorized firms must be permitted to steer lorries that carry chemicals and inflammable materials.

“The attendance certificate must be endorsed in their driving licence. This is in addition to the day-long course that they must attend each year. They must know how to neutralize the leak. Pouring of water might worsen the leak/fire. Many chemicals can be neutralized only using foam, sand etc.”

For this, each lorry must have fire extinguisher and the right foam.

Though rules say that they must not ferry goods through congested roads during office time/school hours, they are flouted very often, especially when transporting essential commodities like LPG.

Mr. Michael suggested that the safety valves that extend behind the cylinder (tanker) of lorries must be enclosed in a safe casing since the chemical would leak in case of any impact from behind.

The ‘spark arrest' at the front of fuel tankers too must be effective and checked frequently, he said.

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