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‘Negligence, safety lapses led to styrene leak at LG Polymers’

The high-power committee (HPC) formed by the government to probe into the styrene vapour leak from LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam, in its report, has stated that human negligence and serious lapses in safety and security had led to the accident.

The panel submitted a 4,000-page report to Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy at Amaravati on Monday.

Styrene monomer vapour leaked out from a storage tank in the plant in the wee hours of May 7, killing 12 and hospitalising hundreds.

Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy visited Visakhapatnam on the same day and interacted with the injured undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Panel members

The Chief Minister also set up the high-power panel led by Special Chief Secretary (Environment and Forests) Neerabh Kumar Prasad to probe into the incident.

The other members of the panels included Special Chief Secretary (Industries and Commerce Department) R. Karikal Valaven, Visakhapatnam Collector V. Vinay Chand, City Police Commissioner R.K. Meena, Andhra Padesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) member-secretary Vivek Yadav, Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) Director General R.K. Elangovan, and Bharat Kumar Sharma, Regional Director of CPCB, Pune.

The panel, which probed into the circumstances that led to the styrene leak, found fault with the LG Polymers management for the lack of proper safety response preparedness at the plant.

“Poor design of the storage tank, inadequate refrigeration and faulty cooling system, absence of circulation and mixing systems, inadequate measures and parameters, poor safety protocol, inadequate safety awareness were found to be reasons that led to the accident,” said Mr. Neerabh Prasad.

The panel chairman also pointed fingers towards inadequate risk assessment response, poor process safety management system, insufficient knowledge among staff about the chemical properties of styrene during storage conditions.

“The protocols pertaining to emergency response and safety were not followed by the authorities during the lockdown period,” he said.

Mr. Neerabh Prasad further said that major changes in the design of the storage tank were done in December 2019, which led to disruption in the circulation and mixing system in the tank.

‘No corrective action’

“On April 24, the tank gave initial signs of polymerisation. Had the plant management taken it as a warning sign and corrective action taken, the accident could have been averted,” said Mr. Neerabh Prasad, adding that no special protocol was followed during the lockdown period.

The report also mentioned that the company had failed in activating the emergency siren system, despite having 36 siren points including one at the entrance gate.

“Had the plant management sounded the siren in time, it would have warned the people in the vicinity,” observed Mr. Neerabh Kumar.

‘Lack of inhibitors’

Further, the report said that the company did not keep sufficient stock of inhibitors and other terminating chemicals to control the runaway reaction. The styrene vapour leaked due to auto polymerisation in the tank.

Put report in public domain: CM

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister accepted the report and ordered that entire document should be placed in public domain for people to access and inform respective authorities to take necessary legal action against those responsible under relevant sections.

During the course of investigation, the high-power committee held several meetings with the officials of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), petrochemical experts, technical committee members formed by the HPC, citizens, political parties, journalists and besides others.

The committee also sent a questionnaire to the management of LG Polymers through the Factories Department.

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