17 August, 2011 — A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village. The worker who gave the information said he was near the smelter when the incident happened. “Workers ran away immediately, and I went to the Canteen. We experienced some suffocation and burning sensation,” the worker said. A complaint has been lodged with the District Collector, Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the Inspector of Factories who is in charge of labour safety. No confirmation of the incident from Sterlite was available at the time of writing. The District Environmental Engineer of TNPCB was unaware of the incident.
The same worker said that such incidents are frequent. “Unfortunately, it happens only when officials are not visiting. Yesterday, the District Collector and TNPCB visited the factory and drove around the plant. On Saturday, the sub-collector was here,” he said. The visit by the District officials and TNPCB is suspected to be related to the report that the Government of Tamilnadu has to submit to the Supreme Court on a recent NEERI report about the environmental status of the controversial copper smelter.
“When the oxygen plant trips and shuts down, everything else does too. The blower in the chimney stops working, and the emissions escape from beneath the Electrostatic Precipitator bypassing the smokestack,” he said.
Based on information received by Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai, via phone at around 12.30 p.m.