BAHAWALNAGAR: Eighteen people have been hospitalized and many more have been affected by the release of ammonia gas from an ice factory operated illegally in a residential area of Minchinabad.
District emergency official Rao Sharafat said after the incident around 7:30 p.m. Monday night, rescue workers entered the factory with safety devices and controlled the gas leak by shutting off the gas cylinder’s main valve.
The incident happened at Habib Ice Factory, Railway Road, Bhutto Colony, when an addict broke into the factory and jammed the cylinder’s valve to steal it, said Arshad Hameed, district civil defense official.
He revealed that the man escaped when the ammonia gas leaked from the valve. He claimed that it was a civil defense team that first responded to the emergency, sealing the factory, repairing the valve by hiring technicians, and controlling the gas leak. By then, however, the gas had spread to the nearby location, he added, claiming that more than a dozen people were affected.
Unit ran illegally in Minchinabad residential area; FIR registered on complaint from the Environment Agency
Sources said the gas leak has sparked panic in the area, forcing a number of people to flee to other areas to avoid the impact of the gas. They claimed that more than 18 people affected by ammonia have been treated at Tehsil Headquarters (THQ) hospital in Minchinabad and the number is gradually increasing.
A Rescue 1122 press release said they took nine people, including two women and four children, to the hospital. However, other people were reportedly taken to the hospital by their families.
Muhammad Shahid, an official at THQ Hospital in Minchinabad, said 18 patients, including an ambulance officer, Nauman, who was part of the rescue team, were treated at the hospital’s emergency department.
He said those affected were still visiting the hospital, adding that the condition of all those affected was out of danger except for an underage girl.
dr The hospital’s Zaigham Shah told Dawn there is a chance those affected by ammonia could have reactions again within a day or two of treatment. He said patients may experience severe choking sensations and should seek immediate medical attention in such a condition. He said the patients who had already undergone treatment but had renewed breathing problems returned to the THQ.
Liquid ammonia is used as a refrigerant in ice plants because it takes a lot of energy from the environment to vaporize. Exposure to high levels of airborne ammonia causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and airways, and in severe cases can lead to blindness, lung damage, or even death. Inhalation of lower concentrations may cause coughing and irritation of the nose and throat.
After the gas leak, local people gathered in front of the factory and protested against the administration and the factory owners.
Speaking to the media, they said that despite repeated written complaints, the administration was reluctant to take action against the factory owners. They called for the immediate shutdown of units running in the residential area and their relocation out of town.
The sources told Dawn that nearly a dozen ice factories, most unregistered, were operating in the residential areas by violating all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and safety measures, with the tacit approval of local administration, including the Department of Civil Defense and Environment had. They said the gas leak incidents were often due to inferior material used in the manufacture of bottles. They said the Environment Agency is responsible for checking licenses and the condition of the units, while the Civil Defense is responsible for safety measures taken in the units, adding that all 12 units operating in the city are not only unregistered are, but also violate all of the SOPs.
DO Civil Defense Arshad Hameed said they are only responsible for safety measures in the units and have already served notices to said unit for failing to take proper safety measures, but the environmental department should take measures against the mechanical failure or leak.
District Commissioner (Environment) Muhammad Babar did not respond to the calls or messages.
However, an official from his department told Dawn, while requesting anonymity, that more than 10 units operated illegally in the city without adopting the departments’ proper policies. He said that in addition to the environmental department, the AC office is also responsible for stopping the illegal units.
Minchinabad Deputy Commissioner Ahmad Javed Cheema said he was on 20 days of vacation.
DSP Minchinabad Hasan Jatoi said that after an investigation into the incident was completed, a case had been registered against the factory owner for criminal negligence. In response to a complaint from the environmental authority, FIR had raised the accusation under sections of the PPC that the incident was due to negligence on the part of the plant administration.
Published in Dawn, March 8, 2023