Vizag Gas Leak

Article Publish Date : May 15, 2020

Vizag Gas Leak :

Over 35 years ago, Bhopal was choking on the deadly fumes of Methyl isocyanate that had found their way across the city from the Union Carbide Plant. Nearly 16,000 (1984-1998) people were reported to be dead. A similar incident, Vizag Gas Leak (Visakhapatnam Gas Leak) was reported to be an Industrial accident that took place at LG Polymers Chemical plant.

Gas leaking from Vizag chemical plant
Gas leaking from LG Polymer plant.

The plant is located in Venkatapuram village, near Gopalapatnam, in the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It was initially established as Hindustan Polymers, which later was taken over by South Korea based LG Chem, and renamed it with LG Polymers India in 1997. The plant manufactures Polysterene and its co-polymers.

The pre-dawn disaster – which took place at 2:30 am – led to the death of 11 people including children and hundreds of others rushed to the nearby hospitals with breathing difficulties and burning sensation in their eyes. “No one could breath, I could not see anything for some time”, Vijay Raju, a local resident said, “For a moment I thought I would die”. Narendra, another villager said he sensed something was wrong after he woke up In the middle of the night. “Around 2:30 am, I woke as my skin was itching. I opened my eyes but felt burning sensation. I sensed some danger and woke my family up,” he added.

Man carrying his child. ( Vizag Gas Leak)
A man carrying his unconscious child during the gas leakage.

A number of victims were found laying unconscious along the streets, as some volunteers fanned them and others rushed to carry them to the hospitals. The scene evoked the memories of the 1984 Bopal Gas Tragedy, that left around 16,000 dead and 500,000 injured.

The intensity of the leak led to the formation of a thick fog. The gusty fumes spread to nearby villages over an area of 5km radius.

The plant was re-opened on May 7 following the lockdown implemented to reduce the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It contained 2000 metric tons of Styrene tanks. Styrene is a monomer which remains in liquid form below 20 degrees Celsius and gets easily evaporated with increase in temperature. It is reported that, technical glitch in refrigeration unit of the tanks caused the mishap, leading to rise in the temperature and vapour pressure. While some state that the accident was  a result of human error and negligence in maintenance during lockdown.

Between 2:30 to 3 am , when maintenance activity was in progress, the gas leaked from the plant. Five villages were mostly affected –R.R. Venkatapuram, Padmapuram, B.C. Colony, Gopalapuram and Kamparapalem.

RESCUE AND FACILITY:

Around 200-250 families were evacuated from the villages in 3km radius, while some fled to their relatives during the panic to take refuge. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 1 crore to kin of the deceased in the incident. He further promised Rs. 25,000 to those who received primary treatment, 1 lakh to those who received longer treatment and Rs. 10 lakhs to the ones on ventilator support.

FORENSIC REPORT:

Two days later, a group of Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory (APFSL) officers, led by Dr. R.K. Sarin and T. Suresh, visited the gas tragedy site and collected evidence. The experts stated that Styrene should be mixed with Tertiary-butyl-catachol (TBC) to prevent self polymerization.” During lockdown period, TBC was not added and whatever was existing, got activated. The self-polymerization process started and led to a chemical reaction and subsequently generated enormous heat of about 150 degrees. TBC must be added to inhibit polymerization of Styrene. Even during transport, TBC is mixed first and then transported. During lockdown the technical team would have mixed TBC but it may have not happened. The cooling process was also not maintained. This led to the generation of enormous heat. Vapours started diffusing out through the breather”, a senior officer of APFSL quoted.

Police arrived at LG polymers after accident
Police and Firefighters at the incident site.

STATEMENT OF LOCAL AUTHORITY:

Gopalapatnam Tehsildar, G.V. Rani on May 13 said that the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation has provided cooked food to those who have returned to their homes and also given them ration supplies for a week. The Andhra Pradesh Government administration has set up five 24-hours Health Centers in R.R. Venkatapuram village, which was worst affected by the leak.

STATEMENT FROM HEADQUARTERS IN SEOUL:

LG Polymers on Wednesday said,” An eight-member technical team from Seoul Headquarters, South Korea, led by the President of our Petrochemical Company, has been dispatched to LG Polymers India. This team will work on-ground along with the concerned authorities to resolve the situation and assist with real-time remedial and rehabilitation measures”.

Though the situation is under control, the effect of it seems to be not yet withdrawn. All the victims, on further medical treatment, are found to suffer from stress and anxiety while some complained of insomnia and loss of appetite. 

The mental trauma and flashing visuals can only be perceived by the ones who have survived that kind of a disaster. Rest, we can only hope that they overcome what fatality they had gone through

Apart from these, it is the sole responsibility of the concerned authorities to keep these industrial plants in regular check. Technical teams should be sent from the government to these plants data should be collected and analyzed at intervals.

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Team Knowdeets

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