SOPs for chemical disasters on the agenda

NEW DELHI : The government is developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with chemical emergencies such as the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), National Disaster Management Authority, Defense Research and Development Organization, Fire Services and Ministry of Health are developing a mechanism to deal with such accidents based on the requirements of states with facilities handling toxic chemicals.

“A coordination mechanism among various stakeholders is being developed to deal with chemical emergencies,” said Dr. Sujeet Singh, director of the National Center for Disease Control.

“There is a need to build capacity both off-site and on-site to deal with chemical emergencies. It is necessary to have a combined proactive response and a clear SOP as required by the States/UTs where such chemicals are used in factories and industries. This is a mandatory requirement as per international health regulations to which India is a signatory.”

India still lacks the skills to deal with such chemical emergencies, unlike advanced economies such as the United States and Japan.

At the same time, India produces and stores over 3,000 hazardous chemicals.

In 1984, India witnessed one of the world’s worst industrial disasters in Bhopal when thousands of people were killed after the accidental release of toxic gas of methyl isocyanate, a chemical used in the production of pesticides, from a factory run by Union Carbide.

According to NDRF, 130 other major chemical accidents have been reported in India over the past 20 years, resulting in 259 deaths and 563 injuries in Visakhapatnam, Delhi NCR region and Baroda.

The government has already held two rounds of meetings in Bhopal and Visakhapatnam. There are approximately 1,861 major accident hazard management units in 301 districts.

In addition, thousands of factories in the unorganized sector process many hazardous materials, posing serious disaster risks.

Until now, several agencies were working independently, but a combined effort of all agencies was not in place.

“Physicians practicing at different levels must be made aware of the impact of acute chemical accidents and their management in public health. For example, if there is a sulfuric acid plant, agencies need to know the sulfuric acid antidote. Doctors in this region should be aware that these particular chemicals are used in the plant so that they can treat their patients immediately in the event of an accident. We are also thinking about the impact it will have on the environment or on people,” said a government official on condition of anonymity.

“What impact a chemical tragedy will create externally, there is no such assessment or guidelines. We are therefore seeking responses from each of the agencies involved.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Baroda.

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