False claim, neglect and incompetence: Probe indicts LG Polymers

Written by Sreenivas Janyala
| Hyderabad |

Updated: July 9, 2020 7:19:10 am





vizag gas leak, vishakhapatnam gas leak, lg polymers gas leak villages, vizag gas leak, lg polymers plant, indian express Smoke is seen at LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: Reuters/File)

*Top officials of LG Polymers claimed they promptly reached the accident site but CCTV footage showed they arrived more than two hours later.

* The surge in polymer content that set off the leak on May 7 at 2.42 am had also happened barely 10 days earlier but no serious note was taken.

*There was no onsite and offsite emergency plan, the management didn’t alert the local residents and washed its hands of the tragedy, leaving the clean-up to the administration.

*Cost-cutting hurt talent; some staff classified as “engineers or senior engineers” were merely Class XII graduates.

These are among the key points in indictment of LG Polymers at Visakhapatnam by the government-appointed committee probing the Styrene vapour leak that killed 12 on May 7 and affected almost 300.

The committee is headed by Special Chief Secretary (Environment, Forests, S&T), Neerabh Kumar Prasad.

Read | Probe report says shut down LG Polymers, file FIR against directors

The leak began at 2:42 am, and as per the committee’s report, Director of Operations P P C Mohan Rao claimed that he had reached the factory at 3:55 am; General Manager (Production) G Raju claimed he arrived at 4:40 am; Safety Head claimed he reached the spot first at 3:23 am, while GM (Maintenance) claimed that he arrived at 3:56 am.

However, the committee said that it verified with police and personnel of various relief and rescue agencies and checked CCTV footage to find that none of the top LG officials arrived before 5 am. “…This needs further investigation,’’ the report said.

The report also notes that factory data from April 25 and April 28 indicated a spike in polymer content in Styrene. On May 7, the same process led to the leak. Similar spikes, the probe said, were noticed as early as April 4 but these were “totally ignored.”

The report said that LG Polymers had no effective onsite emergency plan or a strategy to tackle a Styrene vapour release.

“LG Polymers did not take part in any of the rescue or evacuation activities; rather, passed the entire responsibility to the district administration and the local community. LG Polymers failed to alert residents in the neighbourhoods by activating the siren, although the siren was in a working condition and had multiple activation points, including near the factory gate. This was a fatal lapse,’’ said the committee.

The probe committee red-flagged the “inadequate qualifications” of some staff who were assigned the maintenance of the Styrene tanks and the refrigeration process.

 Pungent air, deaths and chaos — Visakhapatnam gas leak in pictures

“(Graduates) of ITI and Diplomas were designated as engineers and given high posts. The Technical Committee reported that even some Intermediate-pass staff were designated as ‘Senior Engineer.’ The responsibility for the absence of competent and qualified employees lies squarely with the management,’’ the report said.

Despite multiple requests, LG Polymers did not provide any documentation showing standard practices for storage of Styrene at LG’s facilities outside India. This raises the concern that less stringent standards may have been applied to the Indian facility, leading eventually to the disaster, the report said.

READ | Poor safety protocol, breakdown of emergency response led to Visakhapatnam gas leak: Panel

On Wednesday, the 12 executives of LG Polymers, who were arrested July 7 were produced before a magistrate who remanded them to 15 days in judicial custody.

They include: Managing Director and CEO Sunkey Jeong; Technical Director D S Kim; Additional Director (operations) P P C Mohan Rao; in-charge,Styrene monitoring. K Srinivas Kiran Kumar; and production team leader Raju Satyanarayana.

A spokesperson for LG Polymers was unavailable for comment but on May 12, in its first communication after the leak, it had said that it apologised to the affected families, it would co-operate with the probe and bear medical expenses of those affected.

 

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