Chemical fumes burn kids who were looking for water

The tank had carelessly been left outside a textile mill, and the boys — aged 11 and 14 — opened the tap thinking there was water inside; cops have filed an FIR against the company

Diwali had started off with fun and games but soon turned into a painful nightmare for two thirsty kids who went in search of water but instead chanced upon a tank of a highly corrosive chemical, carelessly left outside a textile mill in Dombivli. The younger child — an 11-year-old — sustained severe burns to his eyes and lips from the fumes, as he opened the tap for a sip of what he thought was water.

It was 11-year-old Prakash whose eyes and lips were severely scalded by the fumes as he opened the tap.
It was 11-year-old Prakash Verma whose eyes and lips were severely scalded by the fumes as he opened the tap.

Around 9.30 am, on the morning of Diwali, Prakash Verma (11) and Gaurav Salunkhe (14) were playing with their friends at the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation ground when they got thirsty. They went over to Tirupati Processors, the textile mill across the street, to ask the watchman for a drink of water, but he turned them away.

Gaurav Salunkhe points to the spot where the chemical tank was kept, outside the textile mill’s premises. When mid-day visited the site, the tank had been removed. Pics/Swarali Purohit
Gaurav Salunkhe points to the spot where the chemical tank was kept, outside the textile mill’s premises. When mid-day visited the site, the tank had been removed. Pics/Swarali Purohit

“After playing, we were thirsty, and since the textile company was just across the street, we went there hoping that the watchman would give us some water. But he said he didn’t have any,” said Gaurav.

At the same time, the younger boy, Prakash, spotted a tank with a tap right outside the company wall. But when he opened the tap to slake his thirst, all hell broke loose. Instead of water, the tank contained the extremely harmful sodium hydroxide. Better known as caustic soda or lye, the chemical is not only used in the manufacture of textiles, and a number of other products, but is also used as a drain cleaner — that’s how corrosive it is. It can quickly eat through human tissue, causing severe chemical burns or even blindness, in case of contact with the eyes.

However, the children narrowly escaped the worst case scenario, as they did not come in contact with the liquid itself, but only the fumes, which resulted in burns to the eyes and lips and lower body of Prakash. Gaurav, too, got injured as he tried to help his friend.

“As soon as Prakash opened the tap, the fuming liquid started flowing. When the vapours hit Prakash’s face, he started screaming. I rushed to close the tap and that’s when my lips also got a little burnt,” recalled Gaurav.

The duo’s remaining friends ran home to Trimurti Nagar to inform the boys’ families about the mishap, after which the children were rushed to hospital. Prakash’s father Kapil was at work in Vashi, but he immediately rushed to his son’s aid. Due to the severity of Prakash’s burns, he had to be shifted twice, before he was finally admitted in KEM Hospital, which could offer specialised treatment. However, the family was worried that treatment was going too slow, and when the textile company got in touch with them offering to pay for the medical expenses, they shifted the boy to Shivam Hospital. Gaurav was also admitted to the hospital, but was discharged on Friday, once the doctors declared him stable, said the 14-year-old’s mother, Ranjana.

'Kids were careless'
When mid-day visited the spot, the tank and tap had been removed from the spot. According to the company, however, the incident took place due to the children’s carelessness.

Parvan Pandey, a representative of Tirupati Processors, who has been visiting the families every other day to coordinate the treatment, said, “The children were careless; they opened the tap accidentally while playing. It was Diwali and the company was shut, hence, there was nobody to supervise them,” said Pandey.

He added, “Prakash’s injuries also became severe because he was shifted from one hospital to another, and couldn’t receive treatment on time. Both the children are now stable and recuperating.”

Doctors from Shivam Hospital agreed that delay in treatment had escalated Prakash’s injuries, adding that they would have to wait and see whether the accident would affect his vision. “While the injuries on the lower body of the patient are superficial, those on his face are the real cause for concern. Visiting doctors have said that there was retinal damage due to the accident. But we will be able to get a confirmatory report about the extent of damage, and whether it will affect the child’s eyesight, only after 8-10 days. On the other hand, the other child was discharged after two days because he came earlier and his injuries weren’t as severe,” said hospital administrator Sanjay Jaiswal.

Police say
The company might not accept responsibility for the incident, but the Manpada police have filed an FIR against the owner and the manager, confirmed Senior Police Inspector G S Randive, who said, “As soon as we got to know about the incident, we visited the site. Since the incident took place because of the carelessly placed tank, an FIR has been filed against the owner and the manager of the company under Sections 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the IPC.”

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