On 7th May 2020, an incident of uncontrolled Styrene vapour Release occurred at LG Polymers, RR Venkatapuram, Visakhapatnam from one of the Styrene storage-tanks (M6 Tank). The uncontrolled Styrene vapour release from a storage tank into the atmosphere occurred for the first time in India.
The accident took the life of 12 persons in the immediately subsequent period and 585 people had to undergo treatment in hospitals, besides causing loss of livestock and vegetation. This Styrene vapour release, widely referred to as “Vizag Gas Leak”, is one of the major Styrene vapour release incidents from a bulk storage tank anywhere in the world. It was decided that a team from CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) unit of NDRF from Pune, along with an expert team of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur would be rushed to Vishakhapatnam immediately to support the State The government in the management of the crisis on the ground.
The National Disaster Management Authority arranged a special aircraft for airlifting joint team of four response experts from 5th Battalion, NDRF Pune along with PPE, other equipment and five environmental experts from Nagpur. The aircraft reached Visakhapatnam on 7th May and the team immediately supported the local administration in controlling the situation.
As per the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, (MSIHC) 1989,- ‘ “major accident" means an occurrence including any particular major emission, fire or explosion involving one or more hazardous chemicals and resulting from uncontrolled developments in the course of industrial activity or due to natural events leading to serious effects both immediate or delayed, inside or outside the installation likely to cause substantial loss of life and property including adverse effects on the environments.”
As per the above definition, the uncontrolled Styrene vapour release from the M6 Tank at LG Polymers Visakhapatnam, commonly reported as “Vizag Gas Leak” qualifies as a major accident under MSIHC Rules, 1989.
1.1 About LG Polymers, Visakhapatnam
Industrial activity at the current premises of M/s LG Polymers at R.R. Venkatapuram, Visakhapatnam started in 1961, under the name and style of M/s Sri Rama Mills to manufacture alcohol from molasses. Later, in 1962 M/s Sri Rama Mills was taken over by M/s Hindustan Polymers Ltd. In 1967 (as per the Factories Department License), M/s Hindustan Polymers Ltd. replaced the manufacturing activity of alcohol with manufacturing activity of Polystyrene & Co-Polymer. Manufacturing of Styrene The monomer was reportedly initiated in 1973. In 1978, M/s Hindustan Polymers Ltd. merged with McDowell & Co. Ltd of United Breweries Group. The Company terminated manufacturing of Styrene monomer and started importing it in the year 1993.
As per the information provided by the management, the LG Chemicals (South Korea) Ltd set up the LG Chemicals India Pvt. Ltd., as a 100% subsidiary of LG Chemical, South Korea. The LG Chemicals India Pvt. Ltd. acquired M/s Hindustan Polymers Ltd in 1997 and renamed the company as M/s LG Polymers India Private Limited, Visakhapatnam. The LG Polymers is a 100% subsidiary of LG Chemicals India Pvt. Ltd. After the acquisition, the LG Polymers continued manufacturing of Polystyrene & Expandable Polystyrene and expanded the manufacturing capacities from time to time.
At present, LG Polymers is spread over a total area of 213 Acres and engaged in manufacturing of Polystyrene used for General Purpose Polystyrene (GPPS) & High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) to the tune of 313 Tons per day, Expandable Polystyrene (EPS) to the tune of 102 Tons per day and Engineering Plastics 36.67 Tons per day. M/s LG Polymers is storing Styrene, Pentane and other raw materials within the plant premises.
2. Reasons for the release of Styrene Vapour in LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd.
The first term of reference is to enquire into the reasons for leakage including verifying if the company had adhered to all the safety protocols. The studies reveal that there are a number of contributory factors that led to the accident as per the observations received from the various inputs by the committee. During the deliberations, the following quote of Trevor A. Kletz was noted by the committee “A case history shows that an accident generally does not have one cause, but many, and that, the deeper we go, the more causes we find.”
Teja Dakuri M.Tech, Pursuing Industrial Safety at NIFS