About 250 people, including children, have fallen sick and hundreds of residents have been evacuated from their homes after a toxic gas leak from a fertiliser unit in Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong, officials said on Tuesday.
Di-ammonium phosphate (DPA) leaked from the DAP Fertiliser Company Limited on the bank of Karnaphuli river on Monday night and firefighters battled until late morning to plug the leakage.
DPA is one of a series of water-soluble ammonium phosphate salts that can be produced when ammonia reacts with phosphoric acid.
Reports quoting officials said one of the gas tanks with 500 tonne capacity leaked at around 11:30 PM last night.
The gas quickly spread across large parts of the city. Strong winds blew the gas across a 10-kilometre radius and reports suggested that people felt breathing problems at the southern city’s international airport.
“The gas spread from the unit causing breathing problems to the people across several kilometres,” officer-in-charge of the nearby police station said.
Of the nearly 250 taken ill, 56 people, including more than 10 children, were admitted to hospitals in the port city. All the people being treated were stated be out of danger.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated from their homes near the plant, police and fire officials said.
“Several people reported to doctors just because of panic,” the city’s civil surgeon Azizur Rahman Siddique said.
Chittagong’s Deputy Commissioner Mesbahuddin Ahmed said the situation was under control as leakage has been plugged.
The reason behind the leak could not be known immediately.
Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), which runs the unit, formed a 10-member committee to investigate the incident, while the district administration has formed a three-member panel to probe the leak.
At the time of the incident, the amount of ammonia in the air was recorded at 600ppm (parts per million) whilst workers at the factory can tolerate conditions with ammonia gas up to 25ppm, the environment department said.
Experts said exposure to ammonia could cause slackening, vomiting and breathing problems.
“I have been informed that the fire service men nearly brought under control the situation,” Chittagong’s deputy commissioner Mesbahuddin Ahmed said.