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Visakhapatnam gas tragedy: Who to be responsible ?

LG POLYMERS INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED is located in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India and is part of the Plastic Resin & Synthetic Fiber Manufacturing Industry. The company released a statement that the gas leak is under control, but said that it is assessing how it happened considering the factory was shut because of the lockdown.

Sunkey Jeong, its managing director, also heads the board of LG Chemicals. While  Hyun Seok Jang sits on the board of all key LG Chem firms in India, including Polymers’. The accident happened on 7th May 2020, occurred some 14 km (9 miles) inland from the east coast city of Visakhapatnam, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, at a plant operated by LG Polymers, a unit of South Korea`s biggest petrochemical maker, LG Chem. The leaked gas was styrene monomer gas, which is used for producing plastic.

 

Three surrounding villages were evacuated and officials went house-to-house, breaking in to pull out unconscious victims. There was 1,800 tonnes of styrene stored at the plant at the time of the leak, A report says.

 

It was initially started in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997.Weeks before Korean major LG Electronics entered India, the plant has been at the centre of legal battles since its association with the $23 billion LG Chem. The plant makes polystyrene, where the plastic to be used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things.

 

Toxic styrene gas escaped from an LG Polymers facility that had been shut for over 40 days due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. A failed valve is suspected to have caused the leak. Styrene has to be maintained at less than 20 degrees, but refrigerants may have failed, causing pipes to burst.

 

The incident is now 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, where there were 3,500 people died. As per Government data, it say at least one lakh people continue to suffer chronic illnesses.

 

Officials said they immediately began making announcements over speakers but many were feared to have already become unconscious as police had to break open doors to shift people.

 

Initial reports indicate that several people from the surrounding villages — RRV Puram, Venkatapuram, BC Colony, Padmapuram and Kamparapalem — fell unconscious on the roads. While six died due to prolonged exposure to the gas, another two died while trying to escape from the leak. 

 

Residents near the plant reported burning eyes and skin and difficulty breathing, officials said. Prolonged exposure to styrene can affect the nerves and even cause kidney damage.

 

Over 1,000 people have been exposed to the gas, said SN Pradhan, the chief of the National Disaster Response Force. People within a 3 km radius of the chemical plant have been affected. However, no report confirmed could say , after they got the proper medication in the hospital, could they be completely cured or there will be some symptoms to present inside the body.

 

A question comes on if it is so how LG Polymers is going to compensate thousands of survivors of this gas tragedy?

 

South Korea`s LG Chem said on Wednesday that it had sent a delegation to India to investigate the cause of a toxic gas leak at its chemical plant there that killed 12 people and forced 1000 into hospital for treatment from poisoning.

 

LG Chem said the eight-member delegation, led by its petrochemicals business head, will brief support measures to affected residents and meet with India government officials.

 

About styrene gas, a known carcinogen, and its derivatives like polystyrene and expandable polystyrene.  It is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex. These in turn are extensively used in manufacturing several key body parts for large appliances — like inner parts for indoor units of ACs, inner buckets and racks for refrigerators, and outer body parts for washing machines that are consumed by LG Electronics’ two plants at Noida and Pune. Further, it also supplies to firms like Kent RO and air cooler makers.

 

As per the report of US-based Environment Protection Agency (EPA):

Short-term exposure to the substance can result in respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues. Whereas,  long-term exposure could drastically affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy. It could also lead to cancer and depression in some cases. As per the US-based Environment Protection Agency (EPA), However, EPA notes that there is no sufficient evidence despite several epidemiology studies indicating there may be an association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma.