'This is the 2nd time I have seen a gas leak': Seeds women recall their harrowing experience

This is the second such incident in the unit located in Brandix India Apparel City in Atchutapuram, Visakhapatnam. An ammonia gas leak occurred in the Atchutapuram Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) on 3 June.

By Sri Lakshmi Muttevi  Published on  5 Aug 2022 4:56 AM GMT
This is the 2nd time I have seen a gas leak: Seeds women recall their harrowing experience

Anakapalle: Lakshmi (name changed), a worker at Seeds, is not unfamiliar with gas leaks. "This is the second time I have seen a gas leak. I was so worried that day. I could recall the time when I was hospitalised for 12 days and took almost 40 days to recover," she recalled.

After around 100 women employees of Seeds Intimate Apparel India Pvt. Limited (Seeds) fell sick after a suspected gas leak in the second unit, the government of Andhra Pradesh ordered a probe into the incident. This is the second such incident in the unit located in Brandix India Apparel City in Atchutapuram, Visakhapatnam. An ammonia gas leak occurred in the Atchutapuram Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) on 3 June.

Lakshmi said they came out for a break at 6.40 p.m on 3 August and were going to the canteen. "Suddenly, everyone smelled something suspicious. I could recollect a similar gas smell that I had experienced in June. After entering the unit, some women employees started fainting, became sick, and fell down. Minutes later, vehicles came inside to take us out," she said.

About 600 women work in a unit; about 120 women, including pregnant women, started falling sick. Some of the women who had been victims of the previous incident wore masks immediately.

"There is no transparency in the things the management does. They said the gas leak is from a factory which is 3 km away, but there is no chance of a gas leak from such a long distance. The gas leak might be from inside but everything is fishy," said CPM leader Narsinga Rao.

'Many of us depend on these jobs'

Lakshmi said her parents asked her to quit the job after the previous incident. "I was in KGH for 12 days and it took me 40 days to recover from the gas leak incident. After the incident, my parents asked me to quit the job. But financial situation at home force me to work during these tough times," she said.

According to the workers, the officials of Seeds haven't responded to the incident even after the workers have sought explanation. "Many of us depend on these jobs. A family of five depends on this single job. So, we are worried about our health conditions every time such incidents occur. All that the officials tell us is to wear masks while working," said Bhavani, another worker at Seeds.

What happened on 3 August?

On 3 August, around 100 women working at Seeds fell sick and suffered nausea and dizziness after inhaling some unknown gas while they went on a break in the canteen. While some immediately ran outside, a few pregnant women showed symptoms of vomiting and nausea and fell down. The sick were immediately admitted to Anakapalle NTR hospital for treatment.

CM calls for inquiry

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S Jagan Mohan Reddy ordered an inquiry into the incident and said necessary steps must be taken to prevent them. He has called for safety audits.

"The state government decided to close the unit after the incident. The management of the company should take full responsibility," said AP industries and IT minister Gudivada Amarnath.

A high-level committee comprising district-level officials, industries department officials, and professors from Andhra University was formed to inquire into the incident. Samples taken from Seeds show that it was a complex gas.

What the officials say

Speaking to News Meter, an official from Seeds said, "Some of the workers complained of an unpleasant odour. Some of them were taken to the closest hospital as a precaution. However, the gas leak was not from the inside area of the unit; it came from the outside. We only do cutting and stitching in the unit so there is no chance of a gas leak inside."

Lack of proper medical facilities

The medical and health facilities at the SEZ and various industrial units are said to be inadequate. With about 60,000 workers working in the area, there are no sufficient medical facilities.

During the previous gas leak incident at Brandix Apparel plant, women who experienced nausea and other health issues waited for hours before they were provided medical treatment. They were treated at several clinics in Atchutapuram which were not equipped with the requisite equipment or medical personnel to handle such an eventuality of toxic exposure. They were later sent to hospitals in Anakapalle and Visakhapatnam.

Where is industrial safety?

According to the AP Pollution Control Board officials, two years have passed since lethal styrene vapours leaked out of LG Polymers in the city with horrific and fatal consequences. Yet, little seems to have been done to ensure better safety in industrial establishments. Following the LG Polymers leak, a High-Power Expert Committee was appointed by the state government to make important recommendations, including the need for a comprehensive industrial safety audit of all hazardous industries in and around Vizag.

"The regulatory bodies do not carry out periodic and surprise inspections to detect lapses in safety and non-adherence to norms by industries. Primarily, these bodies lack the necessary competence to identify safety issues and enforce and process safety management," said a member of the Human Rights Forum.

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