The toxic gas leakage on May 7 at Visakhapatnam’s LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd has killed at least 12 persons and left hundreds with severe illnesses. The tragic incident has raised concerns over the long term effects of the gas leak posing threat to the residents living in the surrounding areas of the company and residents of the coastal town. Trade unions and rights activists have called for criminal prosecution of the management of LG Polymers and regulatory bodies for criminal negligence that caused the leak.
While Styrene gas is suspected to have leaked from the polymers plant, thousands of residents living in five villages in the vicinity of the plant have been vacated from their houses and moved to temporary shelter arrangements made available by the authorities. Shockingly, another leakage was reported in the early hours of Friday which the Union Home Ministry clarified as “a minuscule technical leak” and claimed that it was controlled and neutralised.
The state government on Friday has sanctioned Rs 30 crore amount for ex gratia to the deceased families and others affected by the gas leak. The government has also constituted a special committee to probe the incident and submit a report within a month.
In a press statement, Human Rights Forum (HRF) has stated that the incident has shown the pitiful state of on-site and off-site emergency plans and disaster control measures.
Also read: 11 Dead, Over 200 Hospitalised After Massive Gas Leak from LG Polymers Plant in Vizag
“Given that this is the first case worldwide of such a massive release of Styrene, and the first recorded case of human fatality as a result of inhalation exposure to Styrene, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) must be tasked with long term study of the exposed population to ascertain the evolution of morbidities over time,” demanded HRF.
Furthermore, terming the incident as a corporate crime, the rights body stated that a genuinely independent team of experts, including nominees of civil society, to inquire into and get to the bottom of this crime. The factory site must be immediately sealed and all records seized so as to obviate any tampering by management.
Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India and sought responses from the Centre and state authorities. “Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, with the District Magistrate, Visakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused,” stated the bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) Andhra Pradesh committee demanded strict action against the administration of the plant accusing them of criminal negligence and irresponsibility. “While the poisonous gas began leaking at 2.30 AM in the morning, the plant’s officials didn't even alert the nearby residents, which led to deaths,” says M A Gafoor, state secretary, CITU.
The incident was reminiscent of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy when 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank on the premises of the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in Bhopal. The disaster left several thousands killed and lakhs of others injured and suffered illness.