A top Union labour and employment ministry official said the preliminary examination done by the Andhra Pradesh government’s factory inspectors in Visakhapatnam showed possible deviations in safety procedures during the lockdown period, when the factory unit was shut.
“Without deviations, accidents do not happen,” the official said. “The chemical is an unstable one. It needs an inhibitor (a substance which decreases the rate of chemical reactions) to bring some stability on a regular basis. The suspicion is that during the lockdown, this process wasn’t followed,” the official said.
People woke up in horror with breathlessness and a burning sensation in their eyes as the emission spread to adjoining Venkatapuram village at around 3.30 am. Some fell unconscious while fleeing, according to eyewitnesses.
King George Hospital’s (KGH’s) G Arjuna said inhalation by people when they were asleep did the damage. As many as 3,000 people were evacuated to safe places and at least 800 were admitted to various hospitals, according to initial reports. Those in critical condition have been put on oxygen and ventilator support.
Vizag Collector Vinay Chand said the administration rushed ambulances and other vehicles to evacuate people soon after receiving the information at around 4 am. Besides, the state police, paramedics, and teams of the National
Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed for rescue operations, particularly house-to-house search in Venkatapuram and nearby areas.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy rushed to Vizag from his Tadepally camp office near Vijayawada this afternoon to review the situation and visited those undergoing treatment at KGH and other hospitals in the port city.
Prime Minister Narenda Modi spoke to Reddy on the phone and enquired about the incident. He offered the Centre’s support, the chief minister’s office said.
The Union home ministry is in touch with the state government and is monitoring the situation.
Reddy said a high-level committee had been constituted to look into the accident and suggest steps needed to prevent similar occurrences. The government, based on the committee’s findings, will take necessary action against the company.
The chief minister announced Rs 1 crore ex gratia relief to the families of the deceased, besides Rs 10 lakh to those in critical condition.
Further, he announced one-time assistance of Rs 10,000 to each of the 15,000 people living in the vicinity of the plant.
The local police have registered an FIR against the company management under the Indian Penal Code(IPC).
According to M Gautam Reddy, the state’s industries minister, styrene monomer, stored in liquid form in a tank, leaked.
He said the leakage had been contained by neutralising styrene liquid in the tanks.
The government would set up a medical support system to track those exposed to the gas and treat them for possible long-term effects, the minister said.
Director General of Police (DGP) Gautam Sawang told reporters: “We understand that the accident took place when the plant staffers were filling the styrene liquid into the tank. Neutralisers are kept ready to check such leakages. But why the system failed to arrest the leakage needs to be investigated.”
The state government is making efforts to bring an additional 500 kg of neutralising chemical from Gujarat in order to prevent any further leakage of styrene at the plant.
Under the Factories Act, 1948, factories have to designate an “occupier” and a “manager”, both of whom are held equally responsible for any safety hazard. Occupier is defined as a person “who has the ultimate control over the affairs of the factory.”
P Chandra Mohan Rao, director, operations, is the occupier of the factory. He didn’t respond to calls and text messages.
According to the safety manual of LG Polymers India, the storage container has to be kept in a cool and well ventilated place.
In a statement LG Polymers said: “At this moment our top priority is to work closely with the local government and the authorities to ensure medical help is provided to all those who have been affected by this incident. As a responsible global citizen it is our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all local residents and our employees.”
The company also said it had mobilised its technical teams to work with the investigating authorities to arrive at the cause of the incident.
Meanwhile, former Union secretary and environmentalist E A S Sarma has asked for action against the promoters of the company for the chemical leakage.
The former IAS officer has written to Reddy, questioning how the State Pollution Control Board had given permission for expanding the plant despite it being located in a highly populated area.
Speaking to Business Standard, Sarma said similar leakages had happened at Deccan Chemicals about seven years ago and several such accidents also took place but successive governments did not do anything about this.
More gas and fire accidents
Gireesh Babu & B Dasarath Reddy
Two more factory accidents took place on Thursday. Seven workers were hospitalised after they inhaled a toxic gas while cleaning the machinery for reopening a paper mill in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The condition of the three is reported to be critical.
In Neyveli, Tamil Nadu, eight workers received burns when a fire broke out at a boiler of Neyveli Lignite Corporation’s (NLC's) thermal power station. This took place at about 5 pm because of some pressure-related issues. All the injured were shifted to Tiruchirapalli for medical care after receiving initial treatment in Neyveli.
“As of now, the condition of all the eight workers is stable,” an NLC spokesman said. However, the accident may not have an impact on power supply in the state.