At least 11 people died and over 300 were hospitalized following a major gas leak at a private chemical plant in Visakhapatnam in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. The accident took place in the early hours of May 7, Thursday. As per reports, the deceased include a minor and two senior citizens. A large number of children are among those hospitalized.
The accident took place due to a styrene vapor leak at a polymer plant run by LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of the South Korean LG Group. The plant is located in Gopalapatnam on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam (Vizag) – the largest city of Andhra Pradesh. Some 20-odd workers were present at the plant at the time of the incident. They were preparing to reopen the facility after the 40-day lockdown imposed due to COVID-19.
The leak impacted villages in about a 5 kilometer radius around the plant. According to eyewitness reports, the accident took place around 2.30 am when most people were asleep. “All of a sudden, people in surrounding areas woke up complaining of breathlessness, terrible itching, and burning sensation in their eyes,” said one local resident. People reportedly ran out of their houses and many began collapsing on the streets. Cattle and livestock was also affected.
Panic broke out with thousands rushing to hospitals complaining of breathing difficulties. There are around five hamlets in the vicinity of the plant. Media reports described heart-wrenching scenes around the accident site, akin to the infamous 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, with people lying unconscious on the streets and dead cattle by the roadside.
LG Polymers makes polystyrene and expandable polystyrene, a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of products such as toys and appliances. The plant in Gopalapatnam has been operational since 1961, originally as Hindustan Polymers.
An ex-gratia payment for the families of victims was announced by the State government, along with a probe. However, trade unions and opposition political parties demanded stronger action.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions demanded strict action against the management of the plant accusing them of criminal negligence and irresponsibility. It also said the government had failed to take the necessary measures despite similar incidents taking place in other units in the past.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) called for a judicial inquiry to be conducted in a time-bound manner and for the guilty to be punished.
Speaking to Newsclick, former bureaucrat and activist, EAS Sarma also said that similar incidents had happened in the past but the local government merely ignored the complains and did nothing to prevent such incidents.
He said that such incidents are a result of government policies such as “ease of doing business” as per which the environment ministry has demonstrated “undue haste to give rapid clearance for many such drug and chemical projects.” He added that when it comes to holding big companies accountable, the government becomes “soft,” practically letting the responsible persons go scot-free.
(with inputs from Newsclick)