Pune: Container with highly flammable gas overturns opposite Ibis hotel

Vehicle was heading towards Solapur from Nagothane in Alibaug; compressed liquid spread on the road, but its flammability was diluted by using over 30 water tankers.

A major tragedy was averted as fire tenders cooled off a seven-ton container that carried the highly flammable ethylene oxide (EtO) gas and turned turtle after it rammed a divider at the Wadgaon Sheri intersection at 12.47 a.m. on Monday.

The constant work of eight fire tenders helped exceedingly in diluting the explosive limit of the dangerous chemical. Milind Kulkarni, general manager (safety) of Reliance Petrochemicals, said, “This chemical is highly soluble in water, and hence, it’s been watered down since early morning so that it doesn’t disperse.”

The carriageway in front of the hotel going towards Ahmednagar was cordoned off and traffic was diverted to the adjacent road, resulting in huge jams till the evening.

Local resident Sanjay Chopade told: “In the unfortunate event of a blast, with three hotels – Novotel, Hyatt Regency, and IBIS – along with a residential housing society with over 700 apartments in the surrounding areas, it would have been disastrous.

“One side of the carriageway from Yerwada was sealed off and traffic was diverted to the adjacent road. The tanker lay in the middle of Nagar Road, on the closed carriageway that headed towards Wagholi, for over 16 hours. It was finally set upright by two cranes at around 1.56 p.m. A foul smell has enveloped the air since last night.”

A traffic police constable said, “A sixty-year-old lady who was being taken to a hospital in the afternoon got stuck in the traffic, and this sadly led to her demise before she could reach her destination.”

Kulkarni said that if a high dose of the gas is inhaled, it could lead to severe health issues. Exposure to it may lead to headaches, vomiting, giddiness, and burning of eyes.

Meanwhile, the tanker driver with minor injuries and the expected symptoms was admitted to the hospital.

Kulkarni added, “Ethylene oxide is a highly flammable compressed gas. It is stored as a liquid under pressure and at a designated temperature. As soon as it’s released, it turns to gas. The boiling point is a low 10.9 degrees. Due to the open surroundings and wind velocity, dispersion was quick, and so, the explosive limit was diluted.

Due to the sudden downpour and reduced visibility, the container hit the divider that was without warning reflectors and segregated the BRTS stretch from the motorable section at the intersection. The vehicle (MH 04 FJ 7245) overturned at the entrance gate of Hotel Ibis and the flammable chemical, which was in compressed liquid form, spread on the road.

According to Reliance Petrochemicals officer, over 30 water tankers have been used in the cooling process from 1 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. “More will be needed. The remaining gas is being transferred by our team to another tanker by using nitrogen cylinders to create pressure, which would take several hours.

We came from Nagothane by 4.30 a.m. The tanker was going from Nagothane in Alibaug to Solapur. Initially, the chemical had been depressurised when the accident took place. Nitrogen is used to pressurize it and then it is transferred to another tanker. Fifteen nitrogen cylinders have been used so far; more will be required.”

Chief fire officer Devendra Potphode told Mirror: “At around 12.45 a.m., a tanker carrying ethylene oxide gas overturned right opposite Hotel Ibis at the Wadgaon Sheri intersection. It is a dangerous and inflammable, but water-soluble gas.

“After discussing with the Reliance Petrochemicals team, we continuously sprayed water, so that an explosion or a major mishap could be prevented. Two cranes were pressed into service to set the tanker upright without damaging the vehicle and not causing a spark. The situation is safe and under control. We sincerely regret the inconvenience caused to the commuters.”

Yerwada police sub-inspector Swapnali Gaikwad said, “I’m not so sure about this intersection but at the junction before this, towards Yerwada, a lot of accidents take place, especially during the night. There was a reflector at the beginning of the divider opposite Ibis Hotel, but it was completely damaged during an accident at night some time ago because of poor visibility and reckless driving. The BRTS divider should be removed, and the stretch should be merged with the rest of the carriageway.”

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