Foxconn India plant shut down after toxic gas leak (Lead)

July 25th, 2010 - 9:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, July 25 (IANS) Mobile phone accessory maker Foxconn India’s plant at Sunguvarchatram, around 45 km from here, has been shut down following a gas leak late Friday.
The Tamil Nadu government has ordered the closure of the plant till all safety aspects are checked and cleared by authorities concerned.

The decision came after 37 workers were admitted to Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre here after they fell ill inhaling an unknown toxic gas late Friday.

Foxconn India, part of $1.74 billion the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, is the third largest industrial employer in Tamil Nadu with around 7,000 workers, after Hyundai Motor India and Nokia India.

The company’s Sunguvarchatram plant, employing about 500 workers, was reopened Friday after nearly nine months on on the back of increased orders for mobile accessories.

“Around 2 pm Friday after the lunch time six female workers fainted and were hospitalised in Sriperumbudur. Subsequently the second shift was cancelled,” said C.V.M.P. Ezhilarasan, president, Foxconn India Thozilalar Munnetra Sangam, affiliated to ruling DMK party’s labour wing, Labour Progressive Front.

According to him, around 15 minutes into the third/night shift some workers fainted and the remaining workers came out of the factory.

As the hospital at Sriperumbudur did not have sufficient facilities, around 235 workers were taken to Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre with the help of police and workers at Foxconn India’s main plant at Sriperumbudur.

While officials of Foxconn India were not available for comments, Ezhilarasan said the management is putting the blame on pest fumigation activities undertaken prior to the opening the plant for workers falling ill.

“The pesticide has been sprayed in the air condition ducts which in turn affected the workers is what the management told us,” Ezhilarasan said.

“We have asked the company to have the Sunguvarchatram plant inspected by experts and pollution control board officials first and start production only after the green signal from them,” he added.

A senior Foxconn India official, not wanting to be identified, told IANS that the Sunguvarchatram plant does not have any gas tanks.

He said workers at the plant will be shifted to the company’s main plant at Sriperumbudur from Monday.

According to Ezhilarasan, the plant uses isoprophyl alcohol, a colourless flammable chemical with strong odour, as a cleaning agent in all the sections.

The symptoms of isoprophyl alcohol poisioning include flushing, headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Ezhilarasan and company officials, could not say isoprophyl alcohol poisioning was the reason behind workers falling sick.

Foxconn India’s main plant in the special economic zone (SEZ) in Sriperumbudur has been operating.

Meanwhile, Foxconn India’s management said: “Some people had reported symptoms of giddiness and feeling of nausea at its production site on 23rd July/24th July 2010. They were all sent to the nearby hospital and city hospital and were all given first aid and the required treatment.”

“The management also confirms that it does not use any hazardous substance or gas in the manufacturing operations in the said factory,” it said in a statement here Sunday.

The management is investigating the cause of this incident, working closely with various government agencies, it said.

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