A chemical explosion in the municipality of Guarujá, close to the industrial port of Santos in Brazil’s São Paulo State, has resulted in a toxic gas leak spreading across the city.
The explosion took place at a cargo warehouse operated by logistics firm Localfrio, when as many as 16 containers containing chloric acid and a disinfectant called sodium dichloroisocyanurate reacted with rainwater.
“When we realized what was going on, we left in a hurry. We left everything there. It’s all there. Car, purse, bag… It’s all there.”—Anny Kaelly, local warehouse worker
Containers housing such substances must be properly sealed to guard against such accidents, which sparks questions of negligence on the part of Localfrio.
— Época (@RevistaEpoca) enero 14, 2016
According to Santos officials, by the time the fire was brought under control by firefighters, some 66 residents had been admitted to the hospital due to respiratory problems. Even after the blaze had been completely extinguished for some hours, officials still warned of potential dangers due to lingering smoke in the area. Local inhabitants were cautioned to remain indoors with their doors and windows shut.
From an official statement by the Santos port authority (via Maritime News):
“We had stopped ships from docking at a terminal operated by Santos Brasil next to Localfrio’s Alfandegado terminal because of smoke, but otherwise the port was operating normally.”
Santos is the country’s — and Latin America’s — largest port. It is located just 49 miles / 79 kilometers from São Paulo city, Brazil’s most populous city as well as the largest in the entire southern hemisphere.
An emerging pattern of environmental accidents involving industry?
It is to be expected that some accidents involving chemicals will occur in a large and still-industrializing country like Brazil. However, in light of the seriousness of recent incidents amid reports of negligent behavior, there is a clear cause for concern and a need for greater oversight by both companies and the state.
Back in April of last year a fire at a fuel storage facility — also in Santos — sent plumes of thick black smoke into the atmosphere for nine days.
Of course the incident still present in the minds of many Brazilians took place just over two months ago when a dam burst at a large iron ore mine in the state of Minas Gerais, resulting in what is considered by many to be the worst environmental disaster ever to occur in the country. The accident resulted in an immense deluge of contaminated sludge and waste water that destroyed villages and poisoned river water before entering the Atlantic Ocean some 310 miles / 500 kilometers away.
Recent developments in the case involving the collapse of the Fundão mine include accusations of environmental crimes leveled by the Federal Police against three companies and seven individuals. Among the accused are Vale SA and Samarco Mineração SA, the latter of which has been described as a “front company” for Vale and Australian company BHP Billiton, Ltd.
Back in late November, Brazil’s attorney general announced a circa US five-billion-dollar civil suit against all three corporations.