The BCIC chairman made the comment while talking to reporters following a visit to the site of the incident.
On Monday, at least 52 people fell ill after toxic gas from diammonium phosphate discharged into the air as one of the three reserve gas tanks at DAP Fertiliser Company's factory 1 leaked around 10:50pm.
DAP Fertiliser Company Limited, a subsidiary of BCIC, is situated on the south bank of River Karnaphuli at Rangadia under Anwara upazila in Chittagong.
Talking to reporters, Mohammad Iqbal said: “This is merely an accident. The Distributed Control System (DCS) of the fertiliser company is up to the mark. However, we will take all necessary preventive measures so that no such accident could recur in the future.”
When asked if there was any previous fault in the reserve tank, the BCIC chairman said: “It is too early to make such a comment as the production process at a chemical factory is very complex unlike any cement factory or power plant.
“We have already contacted the company that built the reserve tank.”
Responding to another query, the BCIC chairman said: “We will not spare anybody if found guilty. Any official or employees of the DAP, if proven guilty of negligence in duty will face punitive action from the administration.”
He further said: “The chemists of BCIC and KAFCO are continuously monitoring the air and water quality in the area. I want to assure you that no untreated water will find its way into the nearby water bodies, rivers or the sea.”
The BCIC chairman also urged journalists to be cautious while publishing news on the accident so that the branches of rumours could not spread. Requesting people to exercise patience, Iqbal said: “This is a highly technical issue. So it will not be wise to make any comment before the technical committee submits its probe report.”
Two probe body formed
Yesterday, Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation and Chittagong District Administration formed two separate committees to probe into the incident.
The BCIC have formed a 10-member technical committee led by BCIC Director (technical and engineering) Ali Akkas. The committee has been asked to submit the report within three days.
The technical committee will ascertain the reason behind the accident and assess the extent of the damage. It will also conduct a test to determine the present state of the three reserve tanks at the fertiliser company to check for risks, if any.
The committee has also been asked to place recommendations to avert such accidents in the future.
Chittagong District Administration Assistant Commissioner Abdus Samad Shikder said: “A three-member probe committee has been formed and will be led by Additional District Magistrate Mominur Rashid.” “The committee has been asked to submit the probe report within seven working days.”
The committee will talk to locals, public representatives and officials and employees of the fertiliser company.
Meanwhile, Chittagong Medical College Hospital police outpost Nayek Abdul Hamid said: “Fifty-two people were admitted to the hospital on Monday night. Of them, nine were released after treatment today [yesterday].”
Those admitted at the hospital were suffering from respiratory complications brought on by ammonia inhalation, said Sub-Inspector Jahirul Islam of CMC police outpost.
Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. This can cause different complications and may even result in respiratory distress or failure.
“Production remained suspended at DAP 1 when the accident occurred. I soon fainted due to the emission of the toxic gas. Later I was admitted to CMCH,” said Belal Hossain, shift in-charge of DAP 2.
When asked, Amal Kanti Barua, managing director of DAP Fertliser Ltd, admitted that the accident has caused one of the reserve tanks to move about 50 feet away from its original position.
“There are a total of three reserve tanks in the two plants of the fertilider company. The larger tank contains 5000 tons of ammonia while the other two tanks contain 500 tons of ammonia each,” the MD said adding that the damaged reserve tank only crossed its 10 years of 25 years of economic life.
However, the BCIC authorities claimed that the tank contained 250 tons of ammonia during the time of the accident.
The DAP fertiliser company comprises two plants DAP 1 and DAP 2 and went into production on September 12, 2006.
During a visit to the area of the fertiliser factory yesterday morning, the correspondent saw that the fire fighters were desperately trying to bring down the toxic gas to a tolerable limit.
Jasim Uddin, deputy assistant director of Chittagong Fire Service, told the Dhaka Tribune that during the time of the accident, the amount of ammonia gas in the air was recorded at 600ppm (parts per million). Workers at the factory can tolerate conditions with ammonia gas up to 25ppm, he said.
“The ammonia gas was recorded in the air at 9am [yesterday] was about 20ppm. General people can tolerate 5ppm and our target is to bring it down to that tolerable level,” said the fire service official.
“We have sprayed water no neutralise and dilute the toxic gas in the air. As many as 70 fire fighters of 10 units worked to bring the situation under control,” said Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
While addressing yesterday's press briefing, Chittagong Deputy Commissioner Mesbah Uddin informed that the accident caused severe damage to fish resources of the area.
The locals showed this reporter how fishes, dead from the toxic gas, started floating on water of the fish enclosures. The plants of the surrounding areas also became black and shriveled due to the toxic gas in the air.
“A good number of people in the area make a living from fish cultivation. There are so many fish enclosures in the area and we are gravely worried about the damage caused by the toxic gas emission,” said Abdul Jalil, a villager.
The air close to the fertiliser factory was too heavy with ammonia gas. In a bid to protect themselves from the pungent toxic gas, the locals were seen to move around wrapping wet napkin around their face.