Gas Leak At LG Polymers’ Vizag Plant Kills 11 People, Thousands Affected
A father rushes to take his child for treatment at King George Hospital after a chemical gas leakage at LG Polymers factory in Visakhapatnam, on May 07, 2020. (Source: PTI)

Gas Leak At LG Polymers’ Vizag Plant Kills 11 People, Thousands Affected

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A major gas leak at a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam has killed eleven people and affected thousands in the area, the central government said Thursday. A criminal case has been registered against the management of the plant, the Press Trust of India reported, quoting local police officials.

Styrene gas, used for making polystyrene plastic, fiberglass, rubber and latex, leaked from LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd.’s plant at RR Venkatapuram village in Gopalapatnam in the wee hours of Thursday, affecting villages in a five-km radius. A refrigeration unit, attached to two styrene gas tanks, malfunctioned while the facility was being prepped up for reopening after easing of lockdown restrictions.

The Andhra Pradesh government has ordered a probe into the incident. Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy held a high-level review meeting to take stock of the situation and ordered a probe into the matter, Director General of Police D Gautam Sawang said. There was no more leakage of gas and the situation was now "stable and under control", he said.

At least 246 persons with health complications are undergoing treatment at the King George Hospital, Visakhapatnam, and 20 of them are on ventilator support, he told reporters after the meeting with the chief minister.

"How the gas leaked and why the neutraliser at the plant did not prove effective in containing the leak will all be investigated. Styrene though is not a poisonous gas and can be fatal only if inhaled in excess quantity," Sawang said.

According to sources, the gas leak happened when workers at the plant were making preparations for reopening of the facility after easing of lockdown restrictions. The 20-odd workers in the plant were well-versed with safety protocol and took appropriate steps and therefore did not suffer, sources said.

Smoke billows from LG Polymers’ plant near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, in the early hours of Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Source: ANI)
Smoke billows from LG Polymers’ plant near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, in the early hours of Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Source: ANI)

Evacuation Exercise

The daybreak saw some grim scenes as visibly suffering people were being rushed for medical assistance in auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers while government workers tried to assist them with whatever first-aid was available.

In all, more than 800 persons were evacuated from RR Venkatapuram, most of them only needed first-aid. Hundreds of villagers, most of them children, suffered the effects of the gas leak like irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea and rashes. Several police personnel, who came for the rescue operation, also showed the symptoms.

State Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said the LG Polymers plant was supposed to reopen post-lockdown on Thursday. "We are trying to reach out to the top management of the (South Korean) company... Our immediate priority is to arrest the leak and ensure proper medicare to the affected people," he said.

Gas Leak At LG Polymers’ Vizag Plant Kills 11 People, Thousands Affected

LG Polymers' Management Booked

The management of LG Polymers has been booked on criminal charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing death due to negligence, police said.

Separately, the Andhra Pradesh High Court took cognizance of the Vizag gas leak and issued notices to the state and the central governments, while observing how such a plant was allowed to operate in the midst of human habitation.

Taking up the matter suo motu, the court also appointed its Bar Association president as amicus curiae in the case and posted the case for further hearing next week.

"The suo moto case should not be seen as something against the government. We have taken cognizance of it because it involved human lives," the court said.

An ambulance outside the LG Polymers factory in Vishakapatnam. (Photo: PTI)
An ambulance outside the LG Polymers factory in Vishakapatnam. (Photo: PTI)

About LG Polymers

LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. is owned by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea, an affiliate of LG Corp.—the electronics-to-services giant.

LG Polymers India, earlier known as Hindustan Polymers, was established in 1961 and manufactured polystyrene and its co-polymers—used to make plastic products—at the facility in the coastal city of Andhra Pradesh. It was merged with McDowell & Co. Ltd. of the United Breweries Group in 1978.

In 1997, LG Chem (South Korea) took over Hindustan Polymers and renamed it LG Polymers. The company makes chemical and chemical products, pharmaceuticals, medicinal chemical and botanical products, according to its filing. (read more)

Right To Life ‘Grossly Violated’

The National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the central and Andhra Pradesh governments over deaths due to the Vizag gas leak, officials said Thursday.

According to an NHRC statement, Right to Life of the victims has been grossly violated. At a time when human lives across the country are at stake due to Covid-19 pandemic, the gruesome tragedy has come as a bolt from the blue for the people, the human rights panel said.

People comfort a man during an evacuation operation in Vizag. (Photo: ANI/Twitter)
People comfort a man during an evacuation operation in Vizag. (Photo: ANI/Twitter)

‘Shocked, Saddened’

Shin Bong-kil, South Korea's ambassador to India, said he was "shocked and saddened" over the Vizag gas leak. The plant is owned by South Korean petrochemicals giant LG Chem.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news of the accident that occurred at LG Polymers Plant in Venkatapuram that caused loss of valuable lives and many falling ill," Shin said.

"This was a highly unfortunate incident and our deepest condolences go out to those affected by this tragic event. We pray for the speedy recovery of those who have been taken ill," he said in a brief statement.

Helpline Numbers

In a series of tweets, IT and Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said that a helpdesk has been set up at the department of industries in Visakhapatnam.

People can get in touch with Deputy Director S Prasada Rao on his mobile numbers 7997952301 and 891923934, and another officer R Brahma on 9701197069, he said.

The minister said a dedicated team will provide all assistance and also a team of the industries department is at the site, manning rescue operations. "Request all, not to panic, and help us tide over this," Reddy appealed to people.

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