Indian committee finds LG Polymers negligent for fatal gas leak, 12 company officials arrested
16 July 2020
The investigation into the fatal May 7 gas leak in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh state found LG Polymers, a subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Chem, negligent and that early warning systems were not working. The leak killed 12 people and left hundreds ill. Following the investigation, 12 LG Polymers officials were arrested, including the firm’s CEO.
Around 1,000 people fell ill following the styrene gas leak at LG Polymer’s plant in May, with many suffering from burning eyes and breathing difficulties.
The committee set up to investigate the incident said that there were no preventive mechanisms in place to avert such a gas leak. A warning siren facility was also not in working order when the leak occurred. The Andhra Pradesh state government said that there was a distinct lack of safety measures in place at the plant and a timely emergency response was therefore not possible.
In a statement following the leak, LG Chem apologised and said that it places “the utmost priority on the health and safety of local residents and employees.” The company added that it holds international environmental and safety standards with the highest regard and would do its best to prepare concrete measures that will prevent future accidents. The investigating committee repeatedly mentioned in its report that the alarm system and siren were not functioning properly.
The report, which was released on July 7, also recommends moving the plant away from populated areas and lists several major reasons for the accident occurring. The list includes improper storage design, poor maintenance of storage tanks, and a disregard for red flags. Of the 21 major reasons, the committee said LG Polymers was responsible for 20 of them.
The investigation found that the temperature inside the oldest of the three styrene storage tanks at the plant rose to more than six times its allowed level due to polymerisation, a heat producing chemical reaction. The committee said that LG Polymers ignored the rising polymer content from April 4 and continued to ignore it as it dramatically rose between April 25-28. The report says that the management of LG Polymers saw the polymer content as a quality measure rather than a safety measure.
Following the report, Indian police arrested 12 LG Polymers officials on July 8, including its South Korean Chief Executive Sunkey Jeon. Police made the arrests under a case of culpable homicide which was filed against LG Polymers and its officials, the Visakhapatnam police commissioner Rajiv Kumar Meena said. The case also includes counts of negligent handling of poisonous substances and causing hurt and/or endangerment to public life. The charges can draw terms of up to eight years if the officials are found guilty.