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Series of industrial accidents rocks India as work resumes post-lockdown

The series of accidents on 7 May started in the early hours with the gas leak at LG Polymers plant located near Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

Other incidents the same day include a boiler explosion at unit 6 of the Neyveli thermal power plant, which injured eight workers. Seven workers fell ill after inhaling poisonous gas at Shakti paper mills in Tetla village near Raigarh, and a fire broke out at a pharmaceutical packaging factory at Satpur area near Nashik city, with no reported injuries.

The styrene gas leak accident occurred at around 2.30 am as LG Polymers employees were preparing the plant for reopening after a 40 day nationwide Covid 19 lockdown. The gas quickly spread in the atmosphere over a radius of about five kilometres and formed a thick fog affecting visibility.

Styrene monomer is normally in a liquid state and is safe below a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. According to initial reports, a malfunction in the refrigeration unit lead to a temperature increase beyond the safety level, resulting in the chemical converting to gas and leaking into the atmosphere. Another report by Down to Earth stated that lack of maintenance, a defunct volatile organic compound detection system and management negligence may have caused this accident.

The leak affected at least five villages around the plant near Vishakhapatnam. As people attempted to escape in vehicles many fell unconscious in the streets. Large numbers of livestock were reported dead. Currently a total of 305 patients are undergoing treatment at the hospitals and about 128 people have recovered and been discharged. None are said to be critical. The government announced it will cover all expenses for the treatment to the gas leak patients. 

Rescue teams from National Disaster Response Force and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute supported the local administration in the evacuation of victims. According to the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, styrene is a suspected human carcinogen and is highly toxic. Reproductive and neurological risks are presented to those who are exposed to it.

IndustriALL director for the chemicals industry Tom Grinter said:

 “The environmental sustainability of LG Polymers must be reviewed. All those exposed to styrene should receive medical assessments and free treatment now.  LG Chem should take responsibility not only for the current, but also the future health complications that may arise for victims. It should uphold transparency and disclose full details of chemicals used and the remedial measures it is planning to take to improve safety.”

Police registered criminal cases against the LG Polymer plant management. The Andhra Pradesh government formed a committee to investigate the incident. The state government announced compensation of INR 1 crore (US $132,799) to each family of the deceased, INR 10 Lakh (US $13,380) to each patient undergoing treatment on ventilator support, and INR 25,000  (US $332) to out-patients. Further, each of the about 15,000 population in the villages affected by the gas leak will be paid INR 10,000 (US $133). The government also announced compensation for the lost livestock.

LG Chem issued a statement of apology and stated that the company will mobilize all its technological capabilities to prevent further problems, investigate the accident and share the information. Locals demand that the company be shut down permanently.

Apoorva Kaiwar, regional secretary of IndustriALL South Asia, said:

“This series of accidents on a single day highlights shortcomings of safety regulations and raises serious questions on the impact of prolonged Covid-19 lockdown on Industrial establishments. The government of India should activate its inspection system and send warnings across the country to take precautions and avoid such accidents as factories begin to resume work.”


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