Process Start-up is a Dangerous Time (again)

Following a problem in the process start-up, styrene gas was released at a chemical, plant in India. At least 13 people have died and nearly 1,000 have fallen sick after a cloud of toxic styrene gas leaked out of an Indian industrial plant in the small hours of Thursday morning.

Distressing images on social media showed people who had collapsed as they tried to escape the gas in the city of Vishakhapatnam (Southern Andhra Pradesh state, India).

The leak took place at a plant just operated by LG Polymers, owned by South Korea’s largest petrochemicals firm LG Chem. A company spokesperson said the plant was gearing up to reopen after closing when India went into a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus.

According to the police, about 400 people had been taken to hospital and around 1,500 evacuated, mostly from villages immediately adjacent to the plant. Those affected by the gas have described suffering burning eyes and breathing difficulties.

The gas leaked after a fire broke out on the premises, which was discovered by a night shift maintenance worker and has since been extinguished. Other workers are believed to have been inside the plant when the leak began, but it is unclear what happened to them at this stage.

According to the plant owners, LG, the source of the leak had been contained – but the city’s municipal corporation said anyone living within a 3km radius of the plant was vulnerable.

According to eyewitnesses, there was a total panic as a mist-like gas enveloped the area.

People felt breathless in their homes and tried to run away. Darkness added to the confusion.

Of those who were killed, one died after falling into a well trying to flee the gas, while another jumped from a second-floor window in a bid to escape. The youngest dead was reported to be an eight-year-old girl.