Neurotoxic gas leaks and remedies – Explained, pointwise 

For 7PM Editorial Archives click HERE


The Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 should have served as a powerful wake-up call to prioritize safety measures and prevent any Neurotoxic gas leak incident from happening again. However, India continues to face challenges related to neurotoxic gas leaks, as evidenced by recent events such as the toxic gas leak in Ludhiana, Punjab, and the 2020 styrene vapour leak in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

This highlights the need to address the pressing issue of neurotoxic gas leaks and explore effective remedies to safeguard the lives of millions of people who are at risk of being exposed to these hazardous substances.  

About the present neurotoxic gas leak in Ludhiana

Recently, there is a gas leak in Ludhiana’s Giaspura area that led to the death of 11 people and the hospitalization of four others. There has been a leak of high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a neurotoxin. It is suspected that the poisonous gas emanated from a partially open manhole in the locality, possibly due to industrial waste dumping.  

What are the previous instances of neurotoxic gas leaks in India?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984): The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. On the night of December 2-3, 1984, a gas leak at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. This led to thousands of deaths and long-term health issues for survivors.  

Visakhapatnam Gas Leak (2020): In May 2020, a styrene gas leak occurred at the LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The leak happened during the reopening of the plant after a COVID-19 lockdown. This caused the death of 11 people, hospitalization of hundreds, and evacuation of thousands.  

Surat Chemical Leak (2022): In February 2022, a chemical leak in Surat, Gujarat resulted in the deaths of six people. A tanker dumped toxic material, which led to the release of poisonous gases into the atmosphere. Thereby causing severe health hazards for the local population.

There are other incidents also which garnered public attention and highlighted the need for better safety standards in the chemical and industrial sectors.  

What are neurotoxic gases and how do they affect humans?

Neurotoxic gases are poisonous substances that can directly affect the nervous system. They can disrupt or even kill neurons or nerve cells, which are essential for transmitting and processing signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Examples of common neurotoxic gases include methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.  

Neurotoxic gases effects on Humans:

Breathing difficulties: Exposure to these gases can lead to respiratory problems, making it hard for individuals to breathe.  

Irritation: Neurotoxic gases can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose, and throat.  

Central nervous system damage: These gases can affect the central nervous system, causing nerve damage and impairing functions such as vision, hearing, and balance.  

Oxygen deprivation: High concentrations of neurotoxic gases can overpower the oxygen levels in the body, leading to potentially fatal consequences.  

What are the various reasons behind neurotoxic gas leaks?

Poor Waste Management: Inadequate disposal of industrial waste can lead to the release of neurotoxic gases. For example, dumping toxic chemicals into sewers can cause dangerous chemical reactions, as seen in the Ludhiana gas leak incident.  

Inadequate Maintenance of Industrial Plants: Poorly maintained plants and storage facilities can lead to gas leaks. The Bhopal gas tragedy is an example of a catastrophic gas leak caused by inadequate safety measures and maintenance at a chemical plant.  

Lack of Regulation and Monitoring: Weak enforcement of environmental regulations and insufficient monitoring of industries and government authorities can result in hazardous gasleaks. Insufficient oversight allows industries to operate without proper safety measures, thereby increasing the risk of gas leaks.  

Overcrowded Urban Areas: The coexistence of factories and residential buildings in densely populated areas increases the risk of exposure to harmful gases. Inadequate urban planning and zoning regulations contribute to this problem, as seen in the Vizag gas leak incident.  

Infrastructure Failures: Damaged or poorly maintained pipelines and storage tanks can lead to gas leaks. In some cases, ageing infrastructure and lack of proper maintenance can result in hazardous situations.  

Read more: On Bhopal Gas tragedy curative petition: Where did the constitutional sympathy for the victims vanish?

What are the government regulations for preventing neurotoxic gas leaks?

The Indian government has enacted various regulations to prevent neurotoxic gas leaks, such as  

Environmental Laws: The government enforces environmental laws like the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, to regulate the discharge of pollutants and protect the environment.  

Hazardous Waste Management: The Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, govern the safe handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste to minimize the risk of toxic gas leaks.  

Factory Licensing and Inspection: Factories handling hazardous chemicals must obtain licenses under the Factories Act, 1948,. Further, they are subject to regular inspections to ensure compliance with safety standards and regulations.  

Public Liability Insurance Act: The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, requires industries dealing with hazardous substances to have insurance policies, providing compensation in case of accidents, including neurotoxic gas leaks.  

Chemical Accidents Rules: The Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989, and the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996, outline safety requirements and emergency response plans for industries handling hazardous chemicals.  

NDMA guidelines: The NDMA has established clear guidelines on Chemical Disaster Management for various authorities in India. These guidelines promote a proactive and multi-disciplinary approach to chemical disaster preparedness and response.

NDMA has also suggested amendments to existing frameworks and is working to strengthen chemical safety by revamping the Chief Inspectorate of Factories.

Moreover, the finalized National Action Plan on Chemical Industrial Disaster Management (NAP-CIDM) will serve as a roadmap for managing chemical disasters in the country.

Read more: Bhopal’s Real Lesson – Attempts to get more out of Carbide for the gas tragedy are futile. India needs good law on civil liability

What are the challenges in preventing neurotoxic gas leaks?

Lack of awareness: In the Bhopal gas tragedy (1984), insufficient knowledge of the hazards associated with methyl isocyanate led to inadequate safety measures, contributing to the devastating leak.  

Improper maintenance: The Vizag gas leak (2020) at LG Polymers India’s plant in Visakhapatnam occurred due to a technical glitch in the refrigeration unit, highlighting the importance of maintaining proper infrastructure.  

Rapid urbanization: The Gopalapatnam area near the LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam was initially a deserted area, but as the city expanded, it became densely populated, increasing the risk of exposure to the styrene gas leak.   

Improper waste disposal: The Surat toxic waste dumping incident (2022) led to six deaths, illustrating the dangers of illegal dumping and improper waste management.  

Lack of emergency preparedness: In the Kochi garbage fire incident (2022), a mountain of waste caught fire and emitted toxic gases for over a week. This highlighted the need for better emergency preparedness to minimize harm to human health and the environment.  

Issues with India’s legal framework: These include inadequate and outdated laws, fragmented and overlapping regulations, inadequate penalties and deterrents, and insufficient focus on prevention, etc.

Non-transparent operations of industries: These include unauthorized activities, unsafe working conditions, and inadequate funding for maintenance all contribute to increased risks of industrial disasters in India.

Read more: Bhopal tragedy compensation fund of ₹50cr unutilised: SC

What should be done?

Enhance awareness: Educate communities and industries about the hazards associated with neurotoxic gases, like the Bhopal gas tragedy, to minimize the risk of similar accidents.  

Strengthen monitoring and enforcement: Increase inspections and enforce regulations to follow appropriate waste disposal methods to prevent illegal dumping that can cause toxic gas leaks.  

Enhance workplace safety: Adopt strict safety measures in industries and formulate proper emergency preparedness plans to prevent accidents and protect workers from toxic gas exposure.  

Encourage research and technological innovation: Support the development of advanced technologies and safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals. This can help minimize the risk of neurotoxic gas leaks and their impact on human health and the environment.  

Strengthen legal framework: Review and update existing laws and regulations related to hazardous materials and industrial safety, ensuring they are comprehensive, effective, and in line with international standards.  

India should adopt role models such as the European Union’s Seveso Directive and REACH regulation, which impose stringent safety requirements and ensure responsible management of chemicals, which could help India strengthen its regulatory framework.

Promote transparency and accountability: Ensure that industries maintain accurate records of hazardous materials and report any incidents or accidents in a timely manner, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability.  

Implement better urban planning: Create buffer zones between industrial facilities and residential areas, as seen in the Navi Mumbai area, to minimize the risk of human exposure to toxic gas leaks.

Note: In Navi Mumbai, designated industrial zones have been established away from residential areas, helping to minimize the potential impact of hazardous materials on nearby communities. 

Sources:  Indian Express (Article 1 and Article 2), Business Standard, The Hindu, Livemint, TOI

Syllabus: GS – 3: Disaster Management: Disaster and disaster management.

Print Friendly and PDF