Styrene gas leak suffocates thousands in their sleep in 5km radius of LG Polymers Plant; 3,000 taken ill, many on ventilators
In a chilling reminder of the devastating Bhopal gas tragedy, at least 11 persons died and nearly 250 others were hospitalised following the leak of toxic styrene gas in LG Polymers’ plant at Gopalapatnam on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday.
The gas started leaking around 2.30 am from a plant that was reportedly being restarted following relaxation of the Covid-19 lockdown. The leak was plugged and the plant brought under control some three hours later. But by then, the gas spread across at least five nearby villages, within a radius of five kilometres, affecting thousands of people, most of them in deep sleep.
A night shift maintenance worker had discovered the leak from a tank.
According to officials, at least 25 of those who have been hospitalised are in a critical condition and the possibility of the death toll increasing is not being ruled out. Unconfirmed reports said around 3,000 persons, including those admitted in hospitals, have fallen sick due to the poisonous gas.
Its impact on cattle and verdure has not yet been fully assessed but several animals and birds in the vicinity have died. Discoloured, withering plants across the affected areas invoked haunting memories of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.
Scores of people fell like logs, listless and unconscious on roads and sidewalks, as the gas spread from the plant to the human habitations. Many people, who developed pneumonia-like symptoms after inhaling the gas, are on ventilators.
On the request of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy, his Gujarat counterpart Vijay Rupani gave orders to chemical companies in Vapi to send 500 kg of para-tertiary butyl catechol (PTBC) chemical by road to Daman. The PTBC will be used to neutralise the gas leakage.
The consignment will be airlifted from Daman by Andhra Pradesh government, said Ashwani Kumar, Secretary to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Jaganmohan and assured him of all help and support. “I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being in Visakhapatnam,’’ he tweeted.
The chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) team of the NDRF, which is the 5th battalion stationed in Pune along with an expert team of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur has rushed to Visakhapatnam.
“This is a chemical disaster and that is why the Commandant Anupam Shrivasta and his team of four personnel will be flying in from Pune to assess the situation on the ground and give any assistance required,” DG, NDRF, SN Pradhan said in Delhi.
Styrene gas affects the central nervous system, throat, skin, eyes and some other parts of the body, Pradhan said adding a special gas leakage team of the force is on the spot and checking on people who are feeling uneasy.
“What we understand is that this plastic factory was being re-started for operations and the gas leaked after an accident occurred,” he pointed out.
The decision to dispatch the CBRN team was taken after the PM held a high-level meeting with Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah. Ministers of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai and G Kishen Reddy and senior officials in attendance took stock of the situation.
Immediately after the high-level meeting, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba took a detailed review meeting along with the Secretaries of the Ministries of Home Affairs, Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Information and Broadcasting; Members of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Director General (DG), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF); Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and Director AIIMS, and other medical experts; to chart out specific steps to support the management of the situation on the ground.
PK Mishra Principal Secretary to Prime Minister was also present in the meeting.
Jaganmohan, who rushed to Visakhapatnam upon learning about the incident, called on victims undergoing treatment at various hospitals in the city. He instructed the doctors and officials to provide the best possible treatment to the survivors. Addressing a Press conference, he announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1 crore to the kin of the deceased. Reddy said those on ventilators would be given Rs 10 lakh compensation and others among those hospitalised would be given Rs 1 lakh. Those getting primary treatment would get Rs 25,000 as compensation. Those who have lost livestock also would be compensated at the rate of Rs 20,000 each.
Steps would be taken to shift the plant away from the city, he said and promised jobs to the kin of the deceased, he said even as the Gopalapatnam police lodged an FIR against the LG Polymers.
Apart from the Chief Secretary Neelam Sawhney, ministers Kannababu, Avanti Srinivas, Krishna Das, AllaKalikrishna Nani and Botsa Satyanarayana are monitoring the situation.
Andhra Pradesh Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said a probe would be initiated into the gas leak tragedy. “They will have to explain exactly what sort of protocols were followed, and what were not followed as it was shut down for 42 days due to the Covid -19 lockdown,’’ he said.
Accordingly, criminal action will be initiated, he added. The Minister said the gas at the LG Polymers chemical plant has been neutralised, and the situation is now under control.
Opposition leader and Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu appealed to the Central Government to send medical teams to immediately provide required treatment to the victims of the Visakhapatnam gas leak.
He demanded a thorough enquiry into the gas leak and wanted the plant to be shifted to SEZ for ensuring safety of the public.
The NHRC and the Andhra Pradesh High Court took suo motu cognizance of the gas tragedy and issued notices to the State and the Centre.
Styrene is used to make polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, insulation, pipes, automobile parts, printing cartridges, copy machine toner, food containers and packaging material among others.
As per official website of LG Polymers, the company was established in 1961 as “Hindustan Polymers” for manufacturing Polystyrene and its Co-polymers at Visakhapatnam, India. It was merged with Mc Dowell & Co Ltd of UB Group in 1978. LG Chemical considered India as an important market and in its aggressive global growth plan identified Hindustan Polymers as a suitable company for entering Indian market through 100 per cent takeover. Taken over by LG Chem (South Korea), Hindustan Polymers was renamed as LG Polymers India Private Limited (LGPI) in July, 1997.
Friday, 08 May 2020 | PNS | Visakhapatnam/New Delhi
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