The incident of Styrene gas leakage occurred in a chemical plant of LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. in the early hours of May 7 at 3 am in RR Venkatapuram village, Gopalapatnam Mandal in Visakhpatnam District, an industrial port region in India. The factory is located at RRV Puram near Gopalapatnam, about 15 kms from Visakhapatnam. The National Disaster Response Force has declared the incident a chemical disaster.
At least 12 Indian, including two young children, were killed and over 1,000 are reportedly sick after gas leaked overnight. Up to 25 are critical. Children and elderly were most affected. Over 2,000 people have been exposed to the gas. Residents near the plant reported burning eyes and skin and difficulty breathing. Panic-stricken residents of RRV Puram, Venkatapuram, BC Colony, Padmapuram and Kamparapalem fled the area and many fell unconscious on the roads. Employees of the company are not affected by the incident.
People within a 5 km radius of the chemical plant have been affected. At least three surrounding villages were evacuated and officials went house-to-house, breaking in to pull out unconscious victims. It affected the surrounding villages namely Narava, B.C Colony, Bapuji Nagar, Kampalapalem and Krishna Nagar.
Several factory workers were evacuated. Hundreds of people in unconscious condition or breathing difficulties were brought to the King George Hospital.
Styrene gas escaped from an LG Polymers facility that had been shut for over 40 days due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. At daybreak, people were found lying motionless in lanes, ditches and near houses.
“Our initial investigations suggest that the cause of the incident is prima facie by the leaking vapor from the Styrene Monomer (SM) storage tank near the GPPS (General Purpose Poly Styrene) factory on Thursday, May 7.”, LG said.
1800 tonnes of Styrene in the storage tank
LG Polymers said that there was 1800 tonnes of styrene in the storage tank. It said that due to stagnation and changes in temperature it could have resulted in auto polymerization which could have caused vapourisation. The tanks that had been unattended due to the lockdown. It led to a chemical reaction and heat was produced inside the tanks, and the gas leaked because of that.
Locals demand closure of LG Polymers unit permanently
Locals of RR Venkatapuram and surrounding areas are demanding closure of the LG Polymers unit permanently. They said only the closure of the unit will make them feel safe.
Nature of Styrene gas
Styrene gas, which is toxic in nature, may cause irritation to the skin, eyes and causes respiratory problems and other medical conditions. Prolonged exposure to styrene can affect the nerves and even cause kidney damage.
Use of Styrene Gas
Styrene is used in production of polystyrene plastics, rubber fiberglass and latex. It is also found in cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and natural foods like vegetables and fruits.
Cause of gas leak
A failed valve is suspected to have caused the leak. Investigators believe after 40 days of lockdown, gas pressure may have built up. Styrene has to be maintained at less than 20 degrees, but refrigerants may have failed, causing pipes to burst.
Statement of LG Polymers
The company said, “We would like to clarify that the situation at the plant is currently under control and media reports of a second leak are incorrect. All necessary measures such as using added water etc. are being used to keep the temperatures under control. We have requested authorities for evacuation of residents as a precautionary measure. We are working closely with the authorities to contain the damage and ensure the safety and health of all local residents and our employees.”
About the plant – LG Polymers
The plant makes polystyrene, a versatile plastic used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things. Set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997.
It was merged with MCDowell &Co of the UB Group in 1978 and was taken over by South Korea-based LG Chem in 1997 which renamed it as LG Polymers. The factory manufactures general purpose polystyrene and high impact polystyrene, expandable polystyrene, and engineering plastics compounds.
CM orders probe
Andhra Pradesh DGP D Gautam Sawang said that Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy held a high-level review meeting to take stock of the situation and ordered a probe into the matter.
Another Bhopal Gas Leak
The incident has been compared by many to the 1984 Bhopal Gas leak, one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant operated by Union Carbide. Around 3,500 people died. Government statistics say at least one lakh people continue to suffer chronic illnesses.
The incident at LG Polymers is another example of failure of sustainability governance.
NGT notice to LG Polymers, environment ministry; company to pay Rs. 50 Cr for damages
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued notices to LG Polymers, Union Environment Ministry, and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) regarding the Vizag gas leak incident. NGT has directed LG Polymers India to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore taking note of damages caused due to the incident.
FIR against LG Polymers
An FIR has been registered against LG Polymers in connection with the incident, under Sections 278, 284, 285, 337, 338, 304-II of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). No arrests have been made till now.
Financial assistance to victims
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced an ex-gratia of Rs one crore each to the families of those who died in the gas leak incident.
LG Chem plant had no environmental clearance: Report
Vizag plant of the company had no environmental clearance between 1997 and 2019. The IE report said the company admitted that as of May 10, 2019, the unit did not have a “valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority for continuing operations”.
LG Chem plant was shut since March 25
The LG Chem plant was shut ever since the nationwide lockdown was announced. The leakage was reported by workers when they were reopening the plant following relaxations provided by the government to resume business in the third phase of the lockdown.
Indian PM chaired review meeting
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, chaired a high-level meeting to take stock of the steps being taken in response to the Vishakhapatnam gas leak incident. He discussed at length the measures being taken for the safety of the affected people as well as for securing the site affected by the disaster. The meeting was attended by Defense Minister, Home Minister, Ministers of State for Home Affairs and other senior officers.
The Prime Minister and the Home Minister talked with CM, Andhra Pradesh and assured all required aid and assistance from the Centre to tackle the situation. They are monitoring the situation closely and continuously.
After this meeting, Cabinet Secretary took a detailed review meeting along with the Secretaries of the Ministries of Home Affairs, Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Information and Broadcasting; Members of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Director General (DG), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF); Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and Director AIIMS, and other medical experts; to chart out specific steps to support the management of the situation on the ground. Principal Secretary to Prime Minister was also present in the meeting.
It was decided that a team from CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) unit of NDRF from Pune, along with an expert of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur would be rushed to Vishakhapatnam to support the State Govt. in the management of the crisis on the ground, and also to take measures for resolving the short term as also long term medical impact of the leak.
Shocked and saddened over incident, says South Korea
South Korea has expressed shock and grief over the gas leak incident at a Visakhapatnam-based chemical plant owned by South Korean petrochemicals giant LG Chem Ltd, calling it ‘highly unfortunate’, news agency PTI reports.