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Vizag gas leak a serious lesson on plant maintenance during coronavirus lockdown

E Kumar Sharma     May 7, 2020

The LG Polymers plant in Vizag, where the gas leak happened on Thursday morning, was in the process of restarting operations after being shut for 40-odd days post the coronavirus lockdown, inform official sources in the state government.

As explained to a senior official in the government, the company said that the styrene liquid stayed stored for a long time due to the unit being shut. While restarting the operations, a chemical reaction of autopolymerisation increased the pressure on the value, which caused it to burst.

The gas leakage has left 200 people hospitalised and 11 dead. Meanwhile, state chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy has reached Vizag to take stock of the situation. The company officials, led by P Chandra Mohan Rao, director, operations, at LG Polymers are busy responding to official teams visiting the region.

The gas leakage at Vizag has raised serious questions around plant maintenance during lockdown. It calls for a review of efforts and practices being followed by the companies and the government. The government should ensure passes are given for maintenance and companies follow the maintenance process vigilantly.

The officials in the state government say they have started taking mitigation measures. This includes airlifting polymerisation 'inhibitors' from Vapi in Gujarat. It is called 'para tertiary butyl catechol' and it inhibits polymerisation reaction. "This is being done as a matter of abundant precaution," said a state official, pointing out that things seem to be under control at the moment.

The company is reportedly claiming that they were handling maintenance during the lockdown. The state had issued close to 50 passes to the company for conducting maintenance operations around 25 days ago during the first phase of the lockdown. However, as the developments indicate, there have been some slippages and details of these are expected as more investigation is conducted. Speaking to Business Today, officials looking into the matter said some of the preliminary investigations seem to suggest that the valve controls for the gas were not handled properly and they burst causing the leak.

This unit has been around in its current form since 1997. It was first established in 1961 as "Hindustan Polymers" for manufacturing polystyrene and its co-polymers at Visakhapatnam, India. It was later merged with Mc Dowell & Co. Ltd. of UB Group in 1978. Subsequently, LG Chem of South Korea  took over Hindustan Polymers and renamed it as LG Polymers India Private Limited (LGPI) in July, 1997. The company is in the styrenics business and is a leading manufacturer of polystyrene and expandable polystyrene in India.

Also read: Vizag gas tragedy: What is the chemical that leaked?

Also read: Vizag gas leak: Andhra Pradesh govt releases emergency helpline number

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