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TN: Toxic Gas Leak, Oil Leak Choke Ennore Residents, Opposition Grows Against Polluting Industries

The Thiruvottiyur-Ennore region has numerous polluting industries close to residential areas and the seashore, leading to disastrous consequences due to the companies' 'violation' of pollution control measures, resulting in air, water and soil pollution.

Women, children and men from Ennore and the surrounding 32 villages continue to protest, demanding the closure of CIL.

The residents of Ennore and the surrounding 32 villages on the outskirts of Chennai have been struggling to breathe for the past few days. The ammonia gas leak from Coromandel International Limited (CIL) on December 26 left the people gasping for oxygen, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people. At least around 100 people fainted after inhaling the toxic gas, with 55 people receiving treatment in hospitals and 11 people admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The undersea pipeline for carrying ammonia from the anchored ships in the minor port to the tanker in the plant reportedly burst around midnight on December 26, leading to panic in the surrounding area.

Residents continue their protest, demanding the closure of the chemical manufacturing unit despite the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) announcing a temporary closure.

The incident took place within four weeks after the oil leak from the Chennai Petro Chemicals Limited (CPCL) on December 4 after the Michaung Cyclone. After the continuous suffering, the Ennore Makkal Pathukappu Kuzhu (Ennore People’s Protection Committee) held a public hearing alleging the company and government of failing the people. 


The people of Ennore and several hamlets around the town have been complaining of frequent toxic gas leaks from the fertiliser manufacturing unit of the CIL. The company manufactures several fertilisers, both for crop nutrition and crop protection. 

Speaking to NewsClick, Dr Bhagath Singh, anthropologist and resident of Ennore, detailed the company's different products, leading to the leak of toxic gases, particularly ammonia, in the recent incident. 

“The company started using ammonia for manufacturing different products as per demand. From using only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (referred to as NPK), the company is using ammonia to produce Ammonium Phosphate Potash Sulphate  (APPS). The required ammonia is shifted from the anchored ship to the storage tank through pipes laid under the sea within 500m to 1.5 km,” he said.


Ennore People’s Protection Committee is leading the protest for the seventh consecutive day in Periyakuppam, the village close to CIL.

Initial reports suggested that there was no stock of ammonia in the tank and the load was expected on December 27. The burst from the pipe leaked only the ammonia already in the pipes. 

“The company claimed that there was a minor leak of ammonia. But the leak also affected people living around 15 km away. The organisation raised no alarm after the leak happened. This raises severe concerns about the safety measures followed,” Bhagath added. 

Thousands of people fled the scene through available modes of transport, including two-wheelers and auto rickshaws for safety. Children of young age and women suffered to breathe and fainted, resulting in hospitalisation.  Later, the police also alerted the people of the gas leak. 


The people living in the surroundings of Ennore up to Tiruvotriyur have been accusing CIL of being a repeat offender. Several chemical industries in the North Chennai region have been accused of repeated violations, leading to severe water, soil and air pollution. 

Though the Murugappa group-owned fertiliser manufacturer claimed to have brought the leak of minor magnitude under control within 20 minutes and informed the TNPCB officials on time, the public hearing disputes such claims. 

A committee headed by Justice (Rtd) K Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, D Nagasaila, advocate in Madras High Court, Dr Kalpana Karunakaran, IITM, Kavitha Muralidharan, journalist and Vaishnavi P, activist and journalist met the people and have published a report after the public hearing.


The five-member committee with Justice (Rtd) K Kannan held a public hearing relating to the December 26 Ammonia leak from CIL.

The testimonies of people accuse the company of suppressing facts, besides expressing their fear for life, damage to the environment and apathy of the government. The people also expressed their grievances over the police threatening to file cases if they continued their protest demanding the closure of the company.

“Even by their own submission, the seawater returned with 49 mg/L of ammonia, which is 20 times higher than the five mg/L standard. The TNPCB was informed after 1 hour of the leak, while the officials arrived at the spot only by 2.15 am the next day. Though they claim that the leak took place for two minutes, the impact is huge,” Bhagath added. 

The people, including the fishing community, have yet to return to normal life after the massive oil leak on December 4 during the cyclone. Thousands of fish are washed ashore daily, affecting the livelihood of the fisherfolk and the consumers. The gas leak has further intensified their problem since the marine resources along the shallow waters are badly affected. The residents claim that the pollution began as early as 1970 with the formation of Madras Refineries Limited (Now CPCL). 

“The people are protesting from the next day of the leak, with women leading from the front. The sole demand is to close the CIL, which is a repeated offender. The state government must ensure the offending organisations are legally published, and the people and environment are saved from further damages,” Bhagath said.  

The report of the five-member committee noted that ill health prevailing among the residents is now considered normal. “Doctors confronted with complaints of respiratory or heart ailments dismissively tell patients that such ailments are to be expected when they live in Ennore in the vicinity of polluting industries. Many lamented the bleak future facing their children,’ the report reads. 

A total of 21 people from different hamlets around Ennore spoke during the public hearing and demanded the permanent closure of CIL, besides accusing the government and administration of collegial relationship with the polluters. 

“North Chennai is an exemplary case study in master-planning disasters. The report noted that with so many hazardous industries located adjacent to primary residential areas, even minor industrial mishaps can have devastating human consequences" the report stated. 

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