A gas leak at the site of LG Polymers Pvt. Ltd. in Visakhapatnam, India, early on May 7 was the result of negligence and human error, according to a report in the Times of India.
Up to 12 people were killed and hundreds more are still suffering from the effects of exposure to the escaped styrene vapor.
Citing forensic experts from the Andhra Forensic Science Laboratory, TOI reported that the preliminary findings indicate that negligence in adding autopolymerization inhibitors to a storage tank containing styrene gas, as well as failing to maintain the temperature below 20° C during a coronavirus-induced lockdown, led to the gas leak.
Styrene will self-polymerize at temperatures above 20° C, which is why a polymerization inhibitor, usually 4-tert-butylcatechol (TBC), must be used.
Experts are also calling for a study of waterways near the plant.
South Korea-based LG Chem has issued a statement of apology in which the company expresses its deepest condolences to the deceased and their families.
"LG Chem places the utmost priority on the health and safety of local residents and employees. To this end, we are doing everything we can with the proper authorities to protect those residents and employees, and surveying the extent of the casualties and damage," the company said.
With the situation currently under control, LG Chem said it will do its "best to prepare concrete measures that will prevent future recurrences."
The incident also led to the issuance of new guidelines for restarting manufacturing industries by the National Disaster Management Authority in India.
NDMA pointed out that due to several weeks of lockdown and the closure of industrial units during the lockdown period, it was possible that some of the operators might not have followed established standard operating procedures. As a result, some manufacturing facilities, pipelines and valves could contain residual chemicals, which may pose a risk. The same is true for storage facilities for hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.
In a statement, NDMA said: "While restarting the unit, consider the first week as the trial or test run period; ensure all safety protocols; and not try to achieve high production targets."
Also, employees who work on specific equipment must be "sensitized and made aware of the need to identify abnormalities like strange sounds or smell, exposed wires, vibrations, leaks, smoke, abnormal wobbling, irregular grinding or other potentially hazardous signs, which indicate the need for an immediate maintenance or if required, shutdown."