At least Nine Dead in Indian Styrenics Plant Leak

08.05.2020 -

As many as 9 to 11 people are believed to have died and hundreds more were hospitalized after a leak of styrene gas from an LG Polymers plant near the Indian city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh state. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of May 7.

Reports said most of the affected were nearby residents as the wind carried the gas from the plant’s smokestack across a town of around 10,000 inhabitants. Around 5,000 people are said to have been evacuated, with some 1,000 people coming into direct contact with the vapor and fumes.

It was not immediately clear what caused the leak, which state officials said occurred during preparation for a restart ahead of the lifting of a government-ordered coronavirus lockdown.

The plant produces around 100,000 t/y of styrenic polymer, including both PS and EPS.

Responding to questions from the press as to why no alarm was raised, a spokesman for South Korea-headquartered LG said the alarm is only triggered when styrene is leaked in liquid form. Workers reportedly discovered that a storage container was leaking the chemical in gaseous form.

In a statement, the company said it was assessing local residents' damage situation and taking “maximum necessary measures for the protection of residents and employees together with related organizations.”

Hours after the leak, LG said it was under control, and local police were investigating the cause. There were no reports of damage to the plant, which was still offline.

Indian media drew parallels to the 1984 Bhopal disaster, when a gas leak from a Union Carbide plant killed nearly 4,000 people in the immediate aftermath, and around 10,000 subsequent deaths were blamed on the leak.

Union Carbide was later acquired by Dow Chemical.

The Visakhapatnam incident was likely not as lethal as the Bhopal disaster, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, was quoted as saying. The minister promised compensation of $131,000 for each of the families of those who died, adding that LG would be asked to “pay what it can,” and the state government would cover the rest.

Trade union leaders and social and environmental activists demanded that the state take action against the company and government officials for negligence, saying that foreign companies are moving into India as the environment ministry progressively relaxes environment clearance procedures and thus encourages polluting industries to set shop in the country.