Visakhapatnam gas leak claims 11 lives; over 350 hospitalised

Chemical plant situated in a densely populated area; styrene gas reportedly spread over a radius of 3 km affecting five villages; about 2,000 people were evacuated from nearby areas; A.P. CM announces compensation of ₹1 crore for families of deceased.

May 07, 2020 10:36 am | Updated November 28, 2021 12:09 pm IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

Rescuers evacuate people following a gas leak at the LG Polymers chemical plant in Visakhapatnam on May 7, 2020.

Rescuers evacuate people following a gas leak at the LG Polymers chemical plant in Visakhapatnam on May 7, 2020.

Eleven people, including a six-year-old girl, died and over 350 were admitted to hospitals after styrene monomer gas leaked from a chemical plant belonging to LG Polymers at RR Venkatapuram in Visakhapatnam on Thursday.

The gas leak began around 3.30 a.m. in the plant that stands amidst a densely populated area. It was set up in 1961, when the place was considered to be on the outskirts.


The gas reportedly spread over a radius of about 3 km, affecting at least five villages — RR Venkatapuram, Padmapuram, BC Colony, Gopalapatnam and Kamparapalem. About 2,000 people were evacuated from the 3-km radius.

Visakhapatnam Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar Meena said that among those killed, two were accidental deaths - one 19-year-old medical student fell from the balcony of the second floor of his house after he was blinded by fumes and the other fell in a well while trying to flee. The others were declared brought dead at hospitals.

Case registered

The Gopalapatnam police have registered a case against the management of LG Polymers under Sections 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health), 284 (Negligent conduct with respect to 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 or personal safety of others and 304 (II) of the IPC. The case was booked following a report from Village Revenue Officer of RR Venkatapuram M.V. Subba Rao.

Of those affected, 100 have been shifted to King George Hospital (KGH), where the condition of 20, who were put on ventilator, was stated to be critical, said P.V. Sudhakar, Principal, Andhra Medical College.

Chaotic situation

According to eyewitnesses, initially people thought it was a fire accident. But as a pungent smell spread, people rushed out of their homes, carrying children and the elderly. Many, running out of their houses leaving the doors unlocked, fell unconscious on the road. Two people, who tried to flee in a two-wheeler, died after the vehicle crashed into a drain. 

The police reportedly received an emergency call at 4 a.m., and by 4.20 a.m. the first team reached the spot.


District Collector V. Vinay Chand, who was supervising the evacuation process, said people were shifted in about 30 ambulances, police jeeps and government vehicles. State Road Transport Corporation buses were also pressed into service.

The gas was not lethal, but prolonged exposure to it could affect the central nervous system, which may lead to depletion of oxygen to the brain and cause nausea, vomiting and breathlessness, said Arjuna, KGH Superintendent.


Problem in temperature controls led to the leak

Following the leak the company and the district administration took up elaborate sprinkling of water inside the plant and in the affected areas.

The company was earlier called Hindustan Polymers. It was taken over by the South Korea-based LG Chem in 1997 and it manufactures polystyrene, a basic material used in fibreglass and rubber for making toys and appliances, according to a company official.

At the site, general manager of the plant Mohan Rao told the media that it was not running for the last 40 days due to the lockdown. “There are two tanks that store styrene monomer, a raw material for polystyrene. It happened in a tank of 2,400 tonne capacity, which contained about 1,800 tonnes of styrene. If the plant had been running, the material would have been fed into the reactor.”

As per preliminary investigation, the plant had just began functioning and there was some problem in the temperature controls. “Due to which, it appears that styrene monomer, which is stored at minus 20 degree Celsius in liquid form, vapourised and burst out of the safety valves and spread across 1.5 to 3 km radius, affecting the population,” said Mr. Chand. 

Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories KBS Prasad said the incident might have happened due to self-polyermerisation caused by differences in the bottom and surface temperatures inside the tank as the plant was under lockdown.


The company, has about 360 employees, of whom 15 were present in the third shift on Thursday. 

NDRF moves in

Immediately after the evacuation process was taken up by the police, fire service and district administration, the NDRF local unit reached the spot, wearing protective suits and carrying oxygen cylinders.

As per NDRF officials, they undertook door to door search and evacuated over 500 persons, many of whom were found in an unconscious state.

A special team from the NDRF 5 Battalion from Pune that specialises in chemical, biological and nuclear disaster also has been rushed to Visakhapatnam to study the situation and advise the district and company officials. 

Both the company and the district administration took elaborate sprinkling of water both inside the plant and in the affected areas, which appears to be the only neutralising element.


CM visits hospital

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy reached Visakhapatnam from Amravati in a chopper and visited the affected persons in KGH. He announced a compensation of Rs. 1 crore for the family members of the deceased. “This amount includes the compensation to be paid by the company,” he said. 

He also initiated a four-member committee headed by Special Chief Secretary Environment and Forests to inquire into the incident and submit a detailed report.

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