Panic gripped residents of Salheri and Hasanpura, two villages near Lalru, when hydrochloric (HCl) gas leaked from Punjab Chemical and Crop Protection Unit early Sunday morning. The residents of both the villages complained of a burning sensation in eyes and suffocation as the fumes spread.
Gurvinder Singh, a municipal councillor, said, “Around 5.45 am today, the residents started feeling suffocated. We looked around but could not find out what the problem was. So we informed the police.”
The gas leaked from PCCP factory after an electric motor of the processing unit accidentally tripped, leaking the gas. Around 150 men were working in the unit. None of the workers reported being ill.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Phool Chand, in charge of the Lehli police post, said, “After we got a call, we looked across the highway if there was a tanker or a car which was emitting some gas. Most of the residents who complained about the problem were residents of the houses near the highway. When we did not find anything, we searched the chemical factories near the village and came to know that there was a gas leak in one of the factories.”
The police then found the factory from where the gas had leaked. Vice-president of the factory Ravinder Chandha said that the leak was controlled within two-three minutes. He said that the gas was “not harmful and only causes some minor infection”.
Dr S K Jindal, retired head of PGI’s pulmonary medicine department, said, “The gas is not toxic but an irritant. It causes irritation in eyes, respiratory tract and nose. In asthmatic patients it may induce breathlessness. People may suffer from nausea and vomiting but it depends on the amount they inhale.”
Five-year-old Sukhman and 18-month-old Armaan were taken ill and vomited. Their grandfather Pal Singh said that the two children did not stop crying and kept complaining that they had difficulty in breathing. Parminder, 40, Lakhwinder Kaur and Gurvinder Singh, 32, also said that they ran out of the house, feeling suffocated. They eventually vomited.
Harvinder Singh Tony, ex-sarpanch of Jalalpur village, also complained about the leak.
ASI Phool Chand said that the police were inquiring about the case and had also asked the area councillor to give a written complaint. “We have lodged a DDR and are investigating the case,” he said. He added that no one was taken to hospital. The situation was controlled around 7 am.