Vishakapatam Gas Leak: Effects, consequences and legal Issues.

Introduction:

The Vishakapatnam Gas Leak was an unintended accident that occurred in the Chemical Plant in R. R. Venkatapuram village near Gopalapatnam at the outside of the outskirts of Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India owned by LG Chem. During the early hours of 7th May of 2020. The chemical vapor gas from the chemical plant spread more than three kilometers circular radius surrounding the Chemical Plant by affecting nearby villages. As of 5 p.m. on the 8th of May, the death toll was 13 and more than 1000 people became sick after being exposed to the vapor gas. This plant is owned by a South- Korea based LG Polymers.

Background:

In 1961, Hindustan polymers established a chemical plant in R. R. Venkatapuram village in Vishakapatnam. In 1978, it was merged with McDowell & co. In 1997, it was acquired by LG Chem, which Renamed the plant to LG Polymers India. LG Chem expanded its operations to five times between 2006 and 2018. The plant manufactures Polystyrene (a Synthetic resin which is styrene of polymer) and engineering plastic compounds. It primarily produces Styrene, a known carcinogen (A substance that Causes Cancer) and its derivatives like polystyrene and expandable polystyrene. These are used in the manufacturing of the outer and inner body parts of appliances like washing machines and refrigerators which used by the LG Electronics plant for the manufacturing of Appliances situated in the Noida and Pune. Also, it supplies these materials to Kent RO and Air cooler makers.

In 2019, LG Polymers Gained Rs. 142 crore in revenue, while its net profit stood at about Rs. 47,677 Crore in 2019. It also shows that it has Rs. 123 crore paid-up share capital. Sunkey Jeong sits in the Board of all key LG Chem and LG Polymer firms in India.

What made the Gas to Leak?

On 7th May of 2020, the plant was re-opened following the nationwide Lockdown implemented as a response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This plant has stored nearly 2,000 metric tons of Styrene in tanks and it was unattended by the plant’s Officials during the Lockdown. The styrene monomer must have stored between 20-22 degrees Celsius for safety purposes, above which it will vaporize rapidly. It was said that Computer Glitch in the factory cooling system made the temperature of the tanks to increase above the safety level and it made Styrene vaporize rapidly between 2:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. during the maintenance work in the plant. The gas leaked from the tanks and spread to the nearby villages about 3 kilometers surrounding the plant.

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Effects of the Styrene Gas:

As soon as the Gas vaporized from the plant, the fumes spread over 5 Villages- R. R. Venkatapuram, Padmapuram, BC Colony, Kamparapalem, Gopalapuram which were situated around the Chemical Plant. Hundreds of people were rushed to hospitals with breathing difficulties and burning sensation in the eyes. Many had been found lying in the streets unconscious due to the effects of the Gas. Around 13 people were dead, 20-25 people were in critical condition, and mare than 1,000 people were exposed to the gas and experienced the Burning sensation and breathing difficulties.

Also on 7th May, police have ordered to mass evacuate the people living in a 2km radius around the leak and also, the police stated that evacuation was precautionary and there is no second leak. Not only affected Human beings, but it also affected domestic animals like cats, dogs, cattle, birds, and other animals affecting all the living organisms in the area. Many cattle were found dead in their sheds because of the breathing of air mixed with the toxic fumes.

Rescue Operations and Relief Funds:

Nearly 200-250 families were evacuated from the villages in a 5-kilometer radius around the plant. About 300 people were hospitalized. The Chief Minister Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy announced to settle Rs.1 crore for the kin of the deceased in the accident. He further announced Rs. 25,000 for those who received primary treatment and Rs. 1 lakh for those who received longer treatment and Rs. 10 lakh for those who were in ventilator support. To Neutralize the gas, about 500 kilograms(Kgs) of the anti-oxidant 4-tert-Butylcatechol (a neutralizing agent) will be airlifted by the government of Andhra Pradesh and sent it to the Crippled factory. The Central Government flew in a specialized CRBN(Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from Pune to the site.

Remedial Measures took by LG Chem:

LG Chemical soon after the incident, started to support measures to eliminate all risk factors in the plant. In its effort, LG Bought ACtify 2680, a green retarder and Actify 2673, a polymerization inhibitor from the Dorf Ketal Chemicals, a Mumbai-based Chemical Company. LG said that retarder and inhibitor will be added to the tanks of the styrene stored at the LG polymers which will prevent further degradation and further gas leak. The added retarder will act as the green polymer retardant which will be thermally stable and provides protection during the unscheduled shutdowns.

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On 13th May, the South Korean company informed media that an eight-member technical team from its Seoul Headquarters was sent to investigate the incident and to rehabilitate the victims. They also added in saying that the team will meet the affected families and explain support measures in detail and also hold meetings with the local State Government officials.

Investigation :

According to the Preliminary investigation, a gas valve malfunction is believed to have caused the leak. The leak was from one of the two chemical tanks that used to store the styrene compound that was left unattended since March 2020 due to then COVID-19 Lockdown. The malfunctioning of the tank’s refrigerating unit led to an increase in the temperature which caused the liquid chemical to evaporate. But the experts have also claimed that other chemicals were also leaked along with the styrene which is likely to spread 4-5 kilometers due to its chemical properties.

Legal Actions against LG Chem:

The Police have filed the First Information Report (FIR) was filed against LG Polymers by the local police. The report allowed for possible charges under sections 278(making the atmosphere noxious to health), 284(Negligent conduct with respect to the poisonous substance), 285(Negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), 337(causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338(causing grievous Hurt By act Endangering life) and 304(Causing death by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to Culpable homicide) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

National Green Tribunal:

A petition was filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), demanding an investigation into the incident by a high-level committee. A bench headed by the NGT chair, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel was formed, and the case was scheduled to be heard on 8th May of 2020. On 8th May, the bench ordered LG Polymers India to deposit an amount of Rs. 50 crore as an initial amount with the district magistrate of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the central pollution control Board and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in which it sought the responses of the individual boards and the ministry. It Also arranged a five-member fact-finding committee to probe the incident and to deliver a report to the bench. The committee would be supervised by the former Andhra Pradesh High court Judge, B. Seshasayana Reddy.

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Human Rights Commission:

On the same day of the incident, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) gave notice to the Andhra Pradesh Government and central government that it considered the incident a gross violation of India’s Constitutional right to life. In their notice, they have mentioned that NHRC was seeking a detailed report from the Andhra Pradesh Government on Rescue operations, medical treatment, and rehabilitation. It also asked the Andhra Pradesh Government on rescue operations, medical treatment and rehabilitation. It also asked the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs to investigate any possible breaches of workplace health and safety law. Both reports are expected to deliver within Four Weeks.

Conclusion:

All companies, industries, and chemical plants in the country were advised to proceed with their operations obeying all the rules and regulations and violations that are mentioned in the Indian laws and as well as the rules of the Respected State Government laws. This incident has occurred due to the negligence of the company. Even the country has a nationwide lockdown, these types of companies should have given permission to visit the plant for safety purposes and follow the social-Distancing as instructed by the central government. This incident is not an intended one but the company should have taken preliminary measures to avoid such grieve incidents. This not only affected the atmosphere but also the  Innocent people of the environment surrounding the plant by violating the Right to Life. The year 2020 is a notorious year because of the incidents that are going around all over the world.

Author: SriKanth R,
2nd Semester | BBA., LLb., IFIM LAW SCHOOL, BANGALORE.

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