The gas leak at the site of LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam last week was the result of negligence and human error, the Times of India reports. Up to 12 people were killed and hundreds more are still suffering from the effects of exposure to the escaped styrene vapour.
Citing forensic experts from the Andhra Forensic Science Laboratory, TOI writes that the preliminary findings indicate that negligence in adding auto-polymerisation inhibitors to the storage tank containing styrene gas, as well as failing to maintain the temperature below 20 degrees Celsius during the coronavirus-induced lockdown led to the gas leak. Styrene will self-polymerise at temperatures above 20 degrees C, which is why a polymerisation inhibitor – usually tertiary butyl catechol (4-tert-butylcatechol (TBC) – must be used.
Concerns have also arisen regarding contamination of the water bodies in the vicinity of the LG Polymers plant, with experts calling for a thorough study to be carried out.
LG Chem has meanwhile issued a statement of apology in which the company expresses its deepest condolences to the deceased and their families.
“LG Chem places the utmost priority on the health and safety of local residents and employees. To this end, we are doing everything we can with the proper authorities to protect those residents and employees, and surveying the extent of the casualties and damage,” the company said.
With the situation currently under control, LG Chem will do its “best to prepare concrete measures that will prevent future recurrences”.
The incident also led to the issuance of new guidelines for restarting manufacturing industries after lockdown by the National Disaster Management Authority in India.
The NDMA pointed out that due to several weeks of lockdown and the closure of industrial units during the lockdown period, it was possible that some of the operators might not have followed the established standard operating procedures. As a result, some of the manufacturing facilities, pipelines, valves, etc. could contain residual chemicals, which may pose risk. The same is true for storage facilities for hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.
According to the statement of the NMDA, “while restarting the unit, consider the first week as the trial or test run period; ensure all safety protocols; and not try to achieve high production targets”.
Also, employees who work on specific equipment must be “sensitized and made aware of the need to identify abnormalities like strange sounds or smell, exposed wires, vibrations, leaks, smoke, abnormal wobbling, irregular grinding or other potentially hazardous signs which indicate the need for an immediate maintenance or if required, shutdown”.