40 hospitalized due to gas leaks in North Cotabato–officials

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KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato  — At least 40 persons were rushed to hospitals here and in the municipality of President Roxas, also in North Cotabato,  following separate incidents of gas leaks, officials reported belatedly on Tuesday.

Among the people hospitalized were nine employees of the Mindanao Geothermal Project (MGP) here who were rushed on Sunday to a hospital after inhaling toxic gas emitted by a pipe being tested, Alejandro Catacutan, assistant vice president of the Energy Development Corp. said Tuesday.

Catacutan said a group of workers was opening a valve that regulated the flow of steam moving a geothermal wheel on Sunday when a large volume of hydrogen sulfide exploded.

“Some of them managed to run away from the wheel when they noticed a gas detector flashing an alarm, which indicated that there was gas in the geothermal wheel,” Catacutan said, adding that nine of the workers were not able to immediately get out of the area.  They were starved for air and experienced nausea and vomiting, he added.

“They were immediately evacuated to the Kidapawan City Medical Specialist Center and are all out of danger but seven of them had to stay longer in the hospital to determine if they had suffered any complication because they were closest to the leak,” Catacutan said.

Hydrogen sulfide, which occurs in volcanic gases and in sewers, among other sources, is a highly poisonous colorless gas, which is heavier than air and is characterized by the odor of rotten eggs. It is also flammable and can even explode when it comes in contact with fire.

Catacutan said the pipe being tested for capacity had been installed during the early days of the Philippine National Oil Co.’s geothermal exploration on Mt. Apo in the 1990s.

“The last time it was opened was in 2004,” he said.

As a result of the accident, Catacutan said, a meeting with MGP’s department heads had been set to find out how the leak happened.

Catacutan said EDC also wanted to find out how the workers got poisoned when they were supposed to be equipped with with self-contained air breathing apparati.

In President Roxas town, at least two dozen people also landed in hospitals following a chlorine gas leak in a nearby water reservoir late last week, a government official said Tuesday.

Mario Calayco, chairman of President Roxas’ Barangay (village) Poblacion, said among those who experienced nausea, shortness of breath and vomiting were children and the elderly.

The residents lived a few meters away from the water reservoir operated by the local water utility, which is run by the local municipal government, Calayco said.

Dr. Dominic Laus, President Roxas health chief, said most of the victims had gone home.

“The chlorine leak damaged some trees, rubber seedlings and even grasses within the periphery of the said water reservoir,” Laus said.

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