India Investigator Recommends Moving S. Korea-Owned Plant After Gas Leak

CHENNAI/SEOUL – An investigation into a deadly gas leak at a South Korean-owned chemical plant in southern India that killed 12 people in May recommended the factory be moved away from inhabited areas, according to its full report released on Tuesday.

The probe at the plant run by LG Polymers, owned by South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd, found the company was negligent and warning systems were not working, the local state government said on Monday.

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The investigation was set up after toxic styrene gas leaked from the chemical plant near the Indian city of Visakhapatnam in the early hours of May 7, choking many people who were sleeping and killing 12.

LG Chem said on Tuesday it had undertaken a host of safety measures.

“We have fully cooperated for the investigation, and we will sincerely respond to the probe result and take corresponding measures,” LG Chem said in a statement.

In its report, the committee listed 21 major reasons for the accident including improper storage design, haphazard maintenance of the old storage tank and disregard for red flags. It blamed the company’s management for 20 of those causes.

The temperature inside the oldest of the three storage tanks holding styrene monomer, a chemical used in making polystyrene products, rose to more than six times the permitted level due to polymerization, a chemical reaction that generates heat.

“The company management had ignored the rise in polymer content from 4th April 2020 and then the sharp rise on 25th April 2020/28th April 2020,” the committee said.

“The management considers polymer content as a quality measure for styrene rather than a safety measure,” it said.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai and Jane Chung in Seoul; editing by Richard Pullin)

Photograph: In this May 7, 2020, file photo, smoke rises from LG Polymers plant, the site of a chemical gas leakage, in Vishakhapatnam, India. A committee appointed by India’s top environmental court has blamed “gross human failure” and lack of basic safety norms for a gas leak in the South Korean-owned chemical factory. Photo credit: AP Photo/File.