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Gas leak in India kills at least 12 people as hundreds fall ill

07 May 2020

A gas leak in southern India killed at least 12 people on May 7 as hundreds of people fell ill with burning eyes and breathing difficulties. Hundreds more people were also evacuated after the leak at the LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh state.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

South Korea-based LG Chem which owns the impacted factory said that the leak, which was first detected at around 03:00 local time, has now been brought under control. Between 300-400 people from several villages were taken to hospital shortly after the incident, with the number rising to around 1,000 after a few hours.
In a statement, LG Chem said that it was assessing the extent of the damage from the leak and was working with relevant organisations to protect residents and employees. The chemical company added that a night shift maintenance worker first discovered the leak which was emitting a gas known to cause nausea and dizziness.
LG Chem has opened an investigation to find out how the leak was caused. The plant has been closed since March 24 due to India’s coronavirus lockdown but has been preparing to resume operations in recent days. 
The BBC reports that State Industries Minister Goutam Reddy said proper procedures and guidelines were not followed during the plant’s re-opening. A local police official was also quoted as saying the gas had been left in a tank due to the lockdown which caused a heat-producing chemical reaction to occur. The heat could then have caused the leak.
Police attended the scene shortly after the leak was discovered but had to evacuate the area immediately due to the toxic gas. The gas spread through local villages causing a panic amongst locals. Social media footage shows distressed residents running out of their homes, some falling unconscious in the street. 
Reuters news agency reports that several employees were inside the plant at the time of the leak which spread across approximately three kilometres (two miles).
According to its website, the LG Polymers plant makes polystyrene products for manufacturing electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetics.
The BBC quotes a senior official from the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board as saying the leaked gas could have been styrene which is usually kept refrigerated. Styrene is highly flammable and produces a poisonous gas when heated.

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