CHENNAI: A leak of ammonia gas from the Madras Fertilizers Limited (MFL) factory in Manali on Thursday night left the residents of nearby areas struggling for breath for a short while. The incident, which happened hardly a week after the Vizag gas tragedy that claimed 13 lives, has raised fresh safety concerns among the residents of Manali. The officials, however, termed the incident as a ‘minor’ leak.
A senior official from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) confirmed to Express that the leak occurred. He suspected that it could have released from the pressure relief valves when there was an unscheduled shutdown of a urea unit. Ammonia is a key raw material for urea production. The official, however, termed the leak as “minor”, saying neither the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) nor the TNPCB’s ambient air monitoring stations located close to the fertilizer factory captured any abnormal ammonia levels. “The data showed the levels were within permissible limits,” he added.
The residents, meanwhile, had a contradicting take on the whole incident. At 8.30 pm, 55-year-old Lalitha was stretching legs outside her home in Mathur, a residential area in Manali. Her children and grand children were also in the vicinity. Suddenly, the air was filled with the pungent smell of ammonia. “The next 30-40 minutes were hell. The leak caused severe eye irritation, nausea and breathlessness,” she said.
Ammonia leaks are nothing new to Manali. “However, this time the leak was substantial,” said Lalitha adding that the lockdown turned helpful since most of them wore masks and staying indoor. Incidently, a TNPCB inspection team that visited the MFL did not retrieve data from real-time air quality monitors installed within factory premises. TNPCB chairman AV Venkatachalam did not respond to calls by Express.