This Article is From May 07, 2020

After Gas Leak Kills 11, Andhra Chemical Plant Faces Probe Over Possible Lapses

It is believed the leak was due to self-polymerisation as a result of extended shutdown; the plant had been non-operational for over 40 days as a result of the coronavirus lockdown

Vizag Gas Leak: At least 11 have been killed and over 200 admitted to hospital


A chemical plant in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam will face a government probe over the leak of styrene gas that started late on Wednesday night, resulting in 11 people, including two children, being killed and 340 being admitted to hospital.

A high-level panel of Special Chief Secretary (Environment), Industries Secretary, the District Collector and the Vishakhapatnam Police Commissioner has been tasked with investigating the incident.

Andhra Pradesh's Deputy Inspector of Factories will conduct a separate investigation.

Early reports suggest the leak was caused by a valve failure, which caused gaseous vapors to be emitted from the silo in which the styrene was stored, Visakhapatnam Municipal Commissioner Srijana Gummala told NDTV.

Apart from the valve failure, there may have also been self-polymerisation (the process by which different chemicals react and bind together) as a result of an extended shutdown period; the plant had been non-operational for over 40 days as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

There may also have been a failure in the facility's refrigeration systems.

Styrene is a colourless liquid that evaporates if the temperature exceeds 20 degrees Celsius. The gas was being stored in its liquid form in storage tanks with 2,000 metric tonne capacity.

Experts have said that since styrene is a toxic gas, a safety audit should have been conducted. 

While it is unclear if such an audit was carried out, a report from three years ago pointed to heavy corrosion of pipes near the pump area. Design flaws with gas leak detection were also pointed out.


Vizag gas leak: At least 11 people have been killed and over 200 others hospitalised

"Gases cannot be stored for so long, they are not inert, they will react," V Sriram, whose company had carried out a safety audit for LG Polymers, said, adding, "To its credit, LG Polymers has always been safety conscious and did follow all the protocols necessary for safety.''

Operations were expected to begin in a day or two, following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

During the lockdown, movement passes had been issued to 45 employees, who had been tasked with ensuring the styrene was properly stored and the temperature was maintained.

According to South Korean battery-maker LG Chemical Ltd - the plant's owner - the leak was discovered by a night-shift worker.

Andhra Pradesh Industries Minister MG Reddy has said management of LG Polymers India will have to explain the gas leak and detail protocols followed. Criminal action will be taken, he said.

The plant makes polystyrene, a versatile plastic used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things.

The Vizag gas leak is a warning for all industrial units, particularly those dealing with hazardous chemicals. With factories looking to re-start after extended shutdown period, experts say commissioning safety audits should be made mandatory in order to avoid another disaster like this.