A year ago on May 7, toxic Styrene gas leaked from the South Korean entity LG Polymers India Private Limited at RR Venkatapuram in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam district. The leak killed 15 people and over five hundred others were hospitalised. Victims who were exposed to the toxic gas still continue to face a variety of health problems.
As of now, a case is under trial in the Andhra Pradesh High Court against the management of LG Polymers and several government officials responsible for the disaster. The factory was sealed immediately after the accident as per the directions of the state government.
Besides Venkatapuram, residents of colonies including Nandamuri Nagar, SC/BC Colony, Kamparapalem and Padmanabha Nagar were affected by the gas leakage.
While LG Polymers had been operating this unit since 1997, it reportedly did not have the required environmental clearance till the time of the leak. Citing documents from the union environment ministry and the state environment department, The Caravan reported that LG Polymers “consistently evaded getting an environmental clearance for the factory by filing contradictory information about itself and taking months to file simple paperwork.” Further, despite being aware of this, senior officials in both, the state and central government, did not raise questions.
Victims of the accident say that they continue to face health problems such as skin allergies, joint pain and eyesight-related issues. Srikanth of Venkatapuram, who underwent an ear surgery after the accident, said that he has been suffering from joint pain since then.
Although the YSRCP-led state government had promised to set up a multispeciality hospital in the affected region, only a temporary primary health care centre was made available. However, a compensation of Rs one crore to the families of the deceased persons and Rs 25,000 to those who were hospitalised, was distributed by the state government.
According to the findings of a state government appointed high-power expert committee that probed the accident, the root causes of the Styrene gas leakage were “poor design of the tank; inadequate refrigeration and faulty cooling system; absence of circulation and mixing systems; inadequate measures and parameters; poor safety protocol; poor safety awareness; inadequate risk assessment response; poor process safety management system; slackness of management; insufficient knowledge of the chemical properties of styrene, especially during storage conditions; total breakdown of the emergency response of the procedures; and safety protocol not being followed by the authorities during the lockdown period.”
There are serious concerns about the continuing inaction on the part of the state authorities, Human Rights Forum (HRF) said in a press release. “We recall that the high power expert committee had made important recommendations such as the need for a comprehensive industrial safety audit of all hazardous industries in and around Visakhapatnam. Till date, no such audit appears to have been undertaken,” it said.
HRF further pointed out: “It is also not clear if the events of May 7 last year has woken up the authorities to the potential danger of locating hazardous units near residential areas. The operation and expansion of such a large Red Category hazardous industry in close proximity to a densely populated region was highly undesirable. However, the plant has not even been shifted out. Moreover, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has been relaxing regulatory requirements under the guise of enhancing ‘ease of doing business.’ The MoEF&CC should revisit all such notifications, if it is at all concerned about the safety of the people."
Visakhapatnam-based C.H. Narsinga Rao, president, state unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that the affected villagers and Left parties have protested for over a month near the premises of LG Polymers, seeking justice and action against those responsible. He demanded that the factory must be removed from the region and that a super-speciality hospital be constructed there.