Important Topics: Chemical Disaster: Prevention & Response

Introduction Indian chemical industry contributes 2.11% to country's GDP. Between 2000 and 2015, the Indian chemical industry witnessed foreign direct investment worth 10.49 billion US dollars. This industry is expected to grow at 11% per annum to US$ 154bn by 2020. However, major chemical disaster disrupts its growth and these disasters are easily preventable.

Chemical Disaster: Chemical disasters are occurrence of emission, fire or explosion involving one or more hazardous chemicals in the course of industrial activity i.e. handling storage or transportation or due to natural events. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is the nodal ministry for the management of chemical disasters and NDMA prepares guidelines for the various ministries and state authorities for the preparation of disaster management plans.

Factors Which Cause Chemical Disaster

1. Ageing of the process plants and inadequate steps to pace with modern technologies in Indian chemical industry has increased vulnerability to chemical disasters.

2. A majority of the industrial accidents occurs due to human errors, as a result of non-compliance with standard operating procedure (SOP's) that have been put into place by the company. Ex: Piper alpha accident is a classic example of human error caused disaster.

3. Chemical disaster have also occurred due to defects in design; absence of SOP's to mitigate an early warning in the process, poor co-ordination between different departments within the chemical company.

4. Natural disasters such as flood and earthquakes have also caused major disasters in chemical industry. The release of acrylonitrile at Kandla Port in Gujarat, during an earthquake in 2001, is one of the examples.

5. Irregular improper maintenance of equipments in chemical industry, due to this equipment gets malfunction and ultimately fails, resulting in catastrophic explosion. The Flixborough incident is a prime example of improper maintenance which lead to the death of 28 people and injured many.

Prevention and Response

1. Role of Industry

a) Identification of hazardous activities:

A knowledgeable and dedicated team of qualified professionals to evaluate the hazards and risks arising from day to day activities is essential.

Use of appropriate hazard identifications tools such as checklists analysis, safety audit, HAZOP etc. would help in mitigating hazards.

b) Maintenance of the Plant Facility & Equipment: Proper maintenance, regular site safety and health inspection need to be carried out to ensure that plant facility is safe and equipments are operating in intended method.

c) Installation of Vapour/Gas Detection System: This with alarms will help to detect leak even at micro levels, and ensure that leaks are attended at the early stage.

d) Compliance with existing rules and regulations: Various rules and regulation of the state and centre should be strictly addressed for a sustainable & safe process.

e) Emergency preparedness: The industry must have a good emergency response team that can react swiftly to mitigate propagating disasters.

2. Role of Government

a) Setting up of accident investigation board and chemicals accident data base:

  • An accident investigation board on similar lines of chemical safety boards of USA can be setup in India to investigate the chemical disasters and bring out guideline based on lessons learnt.
  • An online portal, where experts from around the world can help industries to prevent such unforeseen circumstances.

b) Awareness Campaigns: Frequent mock drills need to be conducted so that workers become adequately knowledgeable to react to emergency.

c) Research & Development: Research and Development to develop newer technologies so that toxicity of by-products of chemical industries can be minimised.

d) Offsite Emergency Planning: The purpose of offsite emergency plans is to ensure that the local authority adequately discharges his duty to minimize the consequences of major accident to people and environment in MAH located sites.

e) Emergency Response During Transportation: Swift and timely availability of emergency response for disaster during transportation of hazardous materials/chemicals. For this Indian Chemical Council (ICC) has initiated a program called "Nicerglobe" which provides GPRS tracking of trucks right from origin to the place of destination.

3) Role of Public

  • A general awareness of risk associated with any chemical accident would help in reducing the outcome of the accident.
  • A mutual aid group can be setup to organise the general public in case of any disaster & provide training and awareness about the potential action to be taken in case of any chemical leakage.

Conclusion: Disaster is a rarity in the chemical industry, but negligence or misfortune can so easily result in devastating consequences. The result of a chemical disaster has effects through generations of populations which are almost irreparable and the cost of that to the affected people is unimaginable.


The result of a chemical disaster has effects through generation of populations which are almost irreparable and the cost of that to the affected people is unimaginable. In the context of above statement, discuss the reasons of chemical disaster and suggest strategies for its prevention and response. (200 Words).

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