Chemical leak in New Delhi strengthens the need for pesticide-free buffer zones

School girls being treated at a New Delhi hospital after exposure to CCMP. (Source: PTI photo)

The New Delhi chemical leak that largely affected students in two different schools and residents in southeast Delhi’s Tughlakabad area is another horrifying reminder for an urgent and immediate establishment of buffer zones around schools to protect the most vulnerable populace – children.

“The 6th of May CCMP  (2-Chloro-5-chloromethyl-pyridine) leak in New Delhi has  affected 475 school girls, and at least 37 teachers and residents in the Tughlakabad area. This makes our call for the establishment of at least 2 km pesticide-free buffer zones around schools extremely urgent.

“This could have been prevented if some preemptive measures were taken earlier given that the schools (Jhansi School and Government Girls Senior Secondary School) are just about 100 m away from the Tughlakabad depot, where the container truck that leaked toxic fumes was parked,” says PANAP Executive Director, Sarojeni Rengam.

The container was brought to India from China by road, and was in the depot for three days awaiting Custom’s clearance.  Bound for a factory in Sonipat, Haryana the truck contained 80 drums of liquid CCMP used in pesticides. Leaks from 3-4 drums vaporised upon contact with the air and drifted to the schools and residences.

CCMP is considered a hazardous substance by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and thus, the fact that the truck driver was not able to associate his dizziness to the chemical would only indicate his lack of training and knowledge on the dangers of CCMP.

“What is more worrying is that the driver informed the authorities only after four hours of having noticed the leak!” Rengam who is also the 2017 Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified awardee added.

Victims reported breathing difficulty, severe burning sensation in the eyes and on the skin, headache, nausea and vomiting. Some even became unconscious.

Times of India reported, “Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force cordoned off the area and took measures to neutralise the effect of the leak. Later, a team from NDRF’s nuclear, biological and chemical disposal unit reached the scene and covered the liquid with salt to cut off the fumes.”

PANAP’s Pesticide Programme Coordinator Deeppa Ravindran said, “Exposure to CCMP can result in various health complications.”

She shared that based on the findings of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on test animals, CCMP is rapidly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and via the skin and could affect the spleen, liver, lungs, and forestomach.

PANAP and its partners have been urging state governments to institute pesticide-free buffer zones especially around schools precisely because of this type of unwanted incidents that harm the children.

Ravindran added, “Incident after incident such as this chemical leak keeps on showing that schools especially in Asia that are meant to be safe sanctuaries for children to learn and grow are consistently becoming dangerous. It is important that the survival and development of the child be ensured to the maximum extent possible.”

Accordingly, ECHA reports that “Doses of 250 mg/kg and above in males, and the dose of 500 mg/kg bw in females, produced clinical signs and mortalities in both sexes. Necropsy findings of animals which died included darkened livers, pale spleen, reddened forestomach with ulcer-like lesions, enlarged stomachs filled with mixture of feed and water, and expanded lungs.”

CCMP is used in the production of the agro-insecticide imidacloroprid, which has been found to be extremely toxic to non-target insects like bees, and recently has led to resistance in the Colorado potato beetle.

Dr. Meriel Watts, author of Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with agroecology reiterated the need to veer away from the use of hazardous pesticides.  She echoed Rengam and Ravindran’s appeal saying “State Governments must come up with policies towards the establishment of pesticide-free buffer zones at least around schools while transitioning to human and environment-friendly agriculture.”

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Contact: Deeppa Ravindran, Program Coordinator, deeppa.ravindran@panap.net

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