Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon has called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units to quickly survey manufacturing plants and warehouses harboring hazardous chemicals located in Metro Manila and other population centers.
Gordon issued the call following an industrial accident Sunday in Quezon City where toxic fumes escaped from the D&L Chemrez plastics plant in Calle Industria, Barangay Bagumbayan, QC and caused distress to residents of QC and Pasig.
In a statement, Gordon said responding PRC workers and volunteers who rushed to the scene on Monday after midnight to aid barangay residents near the plant had to seek medical attention with two PRC workers brought to St. Luke’s Medical Center for checkup and further observation. Meanwhile, three other PRC volunteers were brought to the East Avenue Medical Center for arterial blood testing and chest x-rays.
Gordon said QC and Pasig residents had called the PRC Operations Center seeking help due to the chemical gas leak from the plant which had caused a foul and pervasive stench affecting them. The Opcen sent a four-man ambulance team at 2 a.m. Monday to link up with two other PRC medical units and volunteers already aiding residents evacuated to the Bagumbayan barangay hall. The PRC workers noted a pervasive “ammonia-like” odor even at the evacuation center, despite the efforts of the QC firefighters who were continuously pumping water inside the Chemrez plant facilities in an attempt to dissipate the noxious fumes.
Three PRC tankers also topped up the fire hydrant reservoir with 30,000 liters of water to help ensure enough water for the firefighters’ efforts.
Because of the toxic environment, the PRC units pulled back after several hours with workers complaining of severe headaches, respiratory distress and fever, the Opcen reported. Later that day, PRC barangay coordinator Alvin Ustare attended a meeting at 1 p.m. with barangay residents and plant officials to discuss the situation.
In a statement issued yesterday, D&L said fumes from a monomer storage facility used to make polystyrene materials had vented fumes from its Chemrez plant, but that this had been controlled after firefighters bombarded the storage tank with water.
The PRC noted though that styrene monomer is a highly-dangerous cancer-causing substance that can be absorbed by humans through respiration or skin contact. Depending on degree of exposure it can cause headaches, eye nose and throat irritation, difficulty of breathing, unconsciousness, brain and liver damage, and death. The substance is also highly flammable and explosive.
“As it stands, surrounding residents in QC and Pasig and our brave PRC workers and firefighters were exposed to hazardous materials. But the situation could have been much worse if the chemical storage facility had exploded. There would have been catastrophic loss of lives affecting a wide area,” said Gordon.
Gordon said government units should survey industrial plants and warehouses with hazardous chemicals located near population centers, and check if the storage and treatment of these materials met international safety standards.
“There should also be stricter zoning of industrial plants and warehouses with hazardous materials away from homes. An earthquake, fire or accident could cause great loss of life to residents even kilometers away from an industrial plant.”
Gordon said PRC will purchase hazardous materials suits to equip its workers responding to similar cases.