Chemical leak near two schools in New Delhi reminds us of the urgent need to create chemical-free buffer zones around education institutions. This chemical leak incident that happened very close to two schools in the Tughlakabad area in Delhi, in the morning of 6th May 2017, had left children breathless and in agony.
According to reports, school going children inhaled a toxic chemical 2-Chloro- 5- chloromethylpyridine, leaking from a truck parked in a container depot located near two schools in southeast Delhi’s Tughlaqabad area. More than 400 girls were immediately impacted and were hospitalised. Students of Government Girls Senior Secondary School (GGSSS) and Rani Jhansi School were taken to nearby hospitals as they complained of severe eye irritation and breathlessness. According to news reports, students complained of vomiting, coughing, and feeling uneasy and eye irritation.
As reported, at least 487 school students and teachers and residents of a colony in Tughlaqabad fell sick on Saturday after inhaling fumes emanating from a liquid (2-Chloro- 5-chloromethylpyridine).
The National Disaster Response Force had reported that the truck contained 80 cans of 2- Chloro-5- chloromethylpyridine. The truck was parked in the Tughlaqabad depot waiting customs clearance. Reports say the chemical container was imported from China and was to be taken to Sonepat in Haryana.
2-Chloro- 5-chloromethylpyridine is used in the production of an insecticide imidacloroprid, which has been found to be extremely toxic to non-target insects and bees. According to Pubchem, an open chemistry database of US National Library of Medicine, 2-Chloro- 5- chloromethylpyridine is a dangerous chemical having the potential to cause severe skin burns and eye damage.
Apparently, some quick action from school authorities, and NDRF, has contained the situation, and has saved children from serious impacts. However, medical parameters of the affected children need to be monitored for a longer period, to rule out chronic impacts.
Incidentally, this happened in the heart of the Indian capital. One can only imagine what if the same leak happened near rural schools, or locations, which are far away from hospitals and rapid action teams. Is India ready to protect its children from chemical accidents, incidents and neglect of safety by the transporters, storage operators and chemical or pesticide users? India did not learn much from the Bhopal disaster in 1984.
Apart from the discussion whether the Delhi gas leak is a unfortunate incident or an accident, school going children are exposed to similar hazards on a daily basis in most rural areas across India, as pesticide sprays, often more dangerous than 2-Chloro- 5-chloromethylpyridine. Children in schools located near agricultural fields, and plantations, inhale drift from pesticide sprays. Scientific research has established long back that children whose breath is faster than adults are likely to be impacted more severely.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India director C. Jayakumar said, “it is so sad that children had become victims of hazardous substances which are inputs in the manufacture of agrochemicals. Even after several incidents right from the Bhopal gas tragedy, our authorities have not realized the seriousness of the problem and are not taking measures to keep away hazardous chemicals from the vicinity of even education institutions in view of public health and safety”. Adding further, he said, “in India, we have successfully established tobacco and alcohol free zones around schools but failed to bring in such restrictions for more dangerous substances such as chemicals and pesticides.”
Dr. Narasimha Reddy Donthi of PAN India pointed to the urgent need of establishing buffer-zones of at least a kilometre around education institutions and child care centres. Hazardous chemicals, pesticides and or raw materials used to produce such dangerous chemicals should not be stored, manufactured or used in any form near this safe zone.
Dileep Kumar A. D., Programme Coordinator of PAN India, said “carelessness of manufacturers, importers, transporters and users of hazardous chemicals and pesticides, and inaction of concerned authorities today compromises the safety of children. The future of nation is in the hands of children and therefore they should get a toxic free life and poison free environment to grow”.
PAN India urges the Central and State Governments to come up with stringent measures to keep away hazardous chemicals and pesticides from the vicinity of education institutions, to ensure safety of children. Considering public health and safety, authorities must come up with policies towards the establishment of pesticide-free buffer zones at least around schools while efforts should be taken to phase out production and use of agrochemicals.
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