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Timeline of the LG Tragedy in India
Updated: 9 July 2020
Joe DiGangi, PhD
Senior Science and Technical Advisor, IPEN
About LG ChemicalLG Chemical is one of the top 10 chemical companies in the world. The company has 11 manufacturing facilities in South Korea along with factories in China, India, Poland, USA and Vietnam. Its business areas include petrochemicals (polystyrene, polyolefins, PVC, plasticizers, ABS, rubber, acrylates, SAP, special polymers), batteries (automotive and others), advanced materials (automotive, IT and industrial) and life sciences. LG Chemical is one of 70 subsidiaries of LG Group. In 2019, LG Group had 250,000 employees and sales of US$137.2 billion.
- The HPC raised the possibility of a double standard between LG operations in South Korea and India noting that, “less stringent standards may have been applied to the Indian facility, due to negligence, leading eventually to the disaster.”
- LG’s styrene release resulted in significant water and soil pollution. The “least contaminated” water source in a dug well in the community contained styrene levels 87 times higher than the WHO guideline. The “least contaminated” sample from the Narava Kota Reservoir violated Canadian standards for agricultural land by more than 1000-fold.
- The tank that released styrene (M6) was more than 50 years old and designed to store molasses, not a toxic chemical. HPC noted that “The M6 tank is inferior in design in all respects for storing styrene.”
- The HPC condemned LG operations, stating that, “LG Polymers does not have any process safety management system.” The Committee concluded that the “handling of emergency response by LG Polymers was inept.”
- The HPC noted that LG “is absolutely liable to compensate for harms caused by the accident. As per the Polluter Pays Principle and Precautionary Principle, the absolute liability for harm extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also for the cost of restoring the environmental degradation caused by the accident.
2020.07.09: Indian press reports more findings from the Andhra Pradesh High Power Committee investigation including LG’s inadequate staff qualifications and lack of an effective onsite emergency plan or a strategy to tackle a styrene vapor release. The Committee also raised the concern that less stringent manufacturing standards may have been applied in India. The report notes that “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 neighborhoods 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.”
2020.07.08: The Andhra Pradesh State Government suspends three government officials in connection with the LG tragedy: KBS Prasad, deputy chief inspector of factories, R Lakshmi Narayana, Environmental Engineer, Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (AP PCB) Zonal Office, Visakhapatnam, and P Prasada Rao, Environmental Engineer, AP PCB Regional Office, Visakhapatnam. A police officer noted that, “Their role has come under the scanner as the LG Polymers has been operating by flouting a number of norms, including not having the EIA clearance from the MoEF&CC.” Previous investigations revealed that the State had allowed LG to operate despite not having a federal environmental clearance.
2020.07.08: Police arrest 12 LG personnel in connection with the tragedy: Managing Director and CEO Sunkey Jeong, technical director D S Kim, additional director (operations) P P C Mohan Rao, person in charge of styrene monitoring K Srinivas Kiran Kumar, production team leader Raju Satyanarayana, engineers C Chandra Shekar, K Gowri Shankara Ramu and K Chakrapani, operator M Rajesh, night duty officer (operations) P Balaji, security person in charge S Atchyut and safety person in charge (night shift) K Venkata Narasimha Patnaik. Specific charges included the following: Sections 304 part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health), 284 (negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance), 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety), and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).
2020.07.07: The Andhra Pradesh High Power Committee delivers its 4000-page investigative report on the LG tragedy to the State Government. The report notes that the root causes of the tragedy include, “Poor design of the tank, inadequate refrigeration and faulty cooling system, absence of circulation and mixing system, poor process safety management system and total breakdown of the emergency response of the procedures.” In April, there were signals that the release was going to occur and the report stated that, “had the company taken it as a warning sign and corrective action taken, the disaster could have been averted.” The Committee bluntly concluded that, “The company cannot be allowed to function in its existing form” in its current location. LG did not respond to a Reuters request seeking comment.
2020.06.30: The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) condemns the court decision allowing the return of LG personnel to South Korea citing concerns that, “they would likely avoid responsibility and not return, as has happened in the Bhopal tragedy and other cases.” ANROEV notes that the Korean LG personnel left India after a National Green Tribunal report laid the blame for the tragedy on the company and just before an upcoming release of an investigative report from the Andhra Pradesh State Government. “LG’s Korean personnel did not declare long-term measures to monitor the environmental and health impacts of their company’s pollution. Instead, they ran away from the country on a chartered flight as government investigations started closing in.”
2020.06.30 The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) outlines LG’s actions in the wake of the tragedy noting that, “LG has pursued a vigorous effort to avoid investigation of its safety failures and to evade any payment of compensation for the tragedy that it caused.”
- LG hired the former Attorney General of India to petition the Supreme Court in an effort to remove the National Green Tribunal from investigating the tragedy.
- LG tried to stop disbursement of an interim fine of ₹50 crore (~US$6.6 million, ~₩8.1 billion) for compensation and restoration.
- More than one month after the tragedy, LG still had not responded to questions from a State investigative committee.
- A local resident who called the claimed LG hotline phone numbers numerous times noted that no one answered.
- LG also claimed in Korean media to be disbursing food to local residents. However, the State Government already was distributing food to migrant workers struggling with the COVID-19 lockdown. Community residents received food from the State-managed food supply, not LG.
- LG claimed that Suraksha Hospital would “take care of all residents’ health check-ups and future treatment.” However, the experience of community residents is that while the first visit was free, all subsequent treatment for LG’s styrene gas release had to be paid by the victims.
2020.06.25: The Andhra Pradesh High Court rules that South Korean LG personnel can leave India. LG’s legal representative, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, argues that they should not be required to appear in India in any future investigation stating that “It is neither required nor feasible.” The Court disagrees and permits the departure of the South Korean personnel only if they file affidavits stating that they agree to respond to any investigation inquiries and present themselves in India if required by the Court.
2020.06.23: South Korean nationals from LG headquarters file a petition with the Andhra Pradesh High Court complaining that they are not allowed to leave India. The State argues that their inputs are important for the investigation and that if they want to leave India, they should file affidavits stating that they would return to India when required for purposes of the investigation. The High Court delays decision on the matter. Ironically, in mid-June, LG’s legal representative, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, told the Supreme Court that the Korean passports should be returned because, “We are not criminals that we will run away.”
2020.06.20: A possible role of lax oversight by the financial sector in the LG tragedy emerges. LG Chemical’s long-term borrowing includes Standard Chartered Bank, BNP Paribas, ING, Mizhuo Banking Corporation, Bank of America, Bank of China, and HSBC and Indian banks such as IDBI and ICICI. Many of these are signatories to the UN Principles of Responsible Banking which require measures to determine “positive and negative impacts on societies…”
2020.06.20: The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) gives a green light for use of water from the Meghadrigedda reservoir which is located close to the LG plant. However, civic officials announce plans to conduct another round of testing.
2020.06.20: The District Collector for Visakhapatnam, Mr. V. Vinay Chand, instructs the management of oil and petrochemical industries to conduct a safety drill every three months as a result of the LG tragedy. The measure does not include emergency evacuation training for the community which the National Green Tribunal cited as a key failure of LG. Mr. Chand also announces a new requirement for companies to provide detailed information about storage, manufacturing process and safety management.
2020.06.17:The High Power Committee established by the Andhra Pradesh government to investigate the LG tragedy announces that LG has not yet responded to questions from the Committee. The State Government objects to calling the tragedy an accident noting that, “We all know it was not an accident. The styrene leak was a result of a series of safety failures.”
2020.06.15: LG petitions the Supreme Court to stop disbursement of the interim fine of ₹50 crore (~US$6.6 million, ~₩8.1 billion) for compensation and restoration. LG also notifies the Court that it will challenge the National Green Tribunal (NGT) report critical of the company’s safety measures. The Supreme Court ordered a 10-day delay in the use of LG’s fine but noted that “there is no substantive challenge” of the NGT order. LG also pushed the Court to de-seal the factory and return passports to company executives. LG said the passports should be returned because, “We are not criminals that we will run away.” The Supreme Court response was, “We say nothing…” and it turned these and other matters over to the Andhra Pradesh High Court and ordered a decision by the end of the following week, noting that the gas leak was the fault of LG. Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, the former Attorney General of India, represented LG in the case.
2020.06.14: Residents show political leaders and news media contaminated ground water and demand an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the tragedy, noting that LG did not inform the community of hazardous chemical use or evacuation procedures.
2020.06.13: The first news report critical of LG’s safety measures appears in Korean media, citing findings of the 28 May National Green Tribunal report. LG Chemical does not respond to the critical Indian government report but questions the causal relationship between its styrene release and additional deaths and claims it is “taking a responsible attitude.” The company suggests that residents want the company to continue operating but local residents state that “At the meeting held by the state government on June 7th, all the survivors, residents, and political parties unanimously agreed to request that the LG plant be moved.”
2020.06.10: Criticism emerges of the Andhra Pradesh High Power Committee as the investigative committee includes members such as Vivek Yadav that recommended state permits for LG even though the company did not have an environmental clearance. “This is like the APPCB [Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board] investigating itself. It generates doubts about the objectivity of the probe.”
2020.06.09: Reports emerge of new deaths allegedly linked to the LG’s tragedy including Kadali Satyanarayan on 8 June (age 58), Yelamanchili Kanaka Raju on 1 June (age 45), and Pala Venkayamma on 29 May (age 73).
2020.06.09: Industry experts note that best practice mandates pumping a chemical inhibitor of styrene polymerization from the mid-level of the tank to prevent gas release. However, the LG tanks were modified in 2019 to pump the chemical in from the bottom, risking a reaction in the upper part of the tank and possible release of styrene. LG made the change “without the approval of the authorities concerned including the Department of Factories.”
2020.06.08: The Government High Power Committee investigating the LG tragedy meets with the company and people from affected villages and political party leaders. Committee Chairman, Neerabh Kumar Prasad, promises regular health checkups will be carried out for residents by specialist doctors.
2020.06.05: A protest in Vizag, the community affected by LG’s styrene release, ends with more than 150 arrests. Mr. Rao, a community member who spoke virtually at the event in Korea asks the newspaper, “Why should we be arrested for the negligence of an MNC?”
2020.06.05: The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) organizes Asian groups to participate in actions on World Environment Day calling on LG to “Be Responsible.”
2020.06.05: Eight organizations organize a press conference in front of LG headquarters in Seoul, calling the tragedy, “Another Bhopal” and demanding that LG take full responsibility.
2020.06.03: The National Green Tribunal states that LG has absolute liability in the tragedy. The legal body directs formulation of a restoration plan; rejects LG’s review of its interim financial penalty; and directs state government officials to identify and take appropriate action against persons responsible for permitting the company to operate without required permits.
2020.06.02: IPEN summarizes the results of the 168-page National Green Tribunal report, noting how it identifies irresponsible lapses in safety. The summary also notes weaknesses including: Acceptance of government compensation rather than LG being fully accountable; Trusting LG to conduct a risk assessment study of its own accident; Recommending only a short time period of five years for monitoring cancer in a population exposed to high levels of a probable human carcinogen; and Ignoring the responsibility of the parent company, LG Chemical.
2020.06.01: A Government investigation finds that LG’s styrene leak has damaged crops making them unfit for consumption.
2020.05.28: The National Green Tribunal Investigative Committee releases its report which sharply criticizes the company’s inattention to safety calling it “gross human failure”. Key findings in the report include:
- 800 tons of styrene escaped from an old tank without any alarm. Community residents alerted police to the toxic gas release, not company personnel.
- No temperature sensors were present in the middle and top parts of the tank, reflecting a “clear cut case of negligence.”
- No automated sprinkler arrangement for vapor loss existed “as this had never been anticipated.”
- A chemical used to inhibit polymerization and release had not been added to the styrene tanks since 1 April 2020, “since there was no stock at the site.”
- Once the styrene temperature rises above 52℃, the usual chemical inhibitor is not effective, however, “It seems LG Chem did not consider this possibility.”
2020.05.28: BBC reports that government inspection reports by the Department of Factories showed “evidence of poor maintenance in the factory.”
2020.05.28: A former LG Polymers employee tells BBC that the emergency siren to warn of a toxic chemical release had not worked for a long time; “We raised the issue during an inspection but the officer laughed it off.”
2020.05.27: City police stop LG officials from leaving India as they prepare to take a charter flight to Korea.
2020.05.26: LG Chemical issues a statement in South Korea stating that they will inspect 40 of their manufacturing plants (17 in South Korean and 23 outside the country) by the end of June. The company claims that they “will also consider pulling out its ongoing businesses if it is difficult to secure their environmental safety.”
2020.05.24: The Andhra Pradesh High Court orders the State Government to seize the premises of LG Polymers and prohibits company executives from leaving the country. The Court extends the vulnerable zone to 6.3 km from the plant and notes that several hospitals, educational institutions, places of worship, railway stations and an airport are within the zone which also includes a large residential area.
2020.05.19: The Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor downgrades the safety rating of LG’s Chemical Catalyst Center in Seosan to M-, the lowest level.
2020.05.19: A fire at an LG Chemical catalyst plant in Seosan, South Korea, kills one worker and injures two others.
2020.05.19: LG hires Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, the former Attorney General of India, to petition the Supreme Court of India to reduce the number of investigative committees researching the causes of the tragedy. LG pushes the Supreme Court to remove the National Green Tribunal from investigating the tragedy. The Supreme Court rejects the company’s argument.
2020.05.18: LG completes removal of all remaining styrene at the LG Polymers plant and ships it to South Korea.
2020.05.17: The National Green Tribunal Committee investigating the LG tragedy issues an interim report, identifying, “Gross human failure and negligence of the Person in-Charge of the plant and maintenance personnel of the storage tanks.”
2020.05.16: CCTV footage of the LG tragedy emerges, showing thick clouds of gas and people collapsing as they tried to escape
2020.05.15: The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) holds a virtual press conference which includes two residents of the affected community calling on LG to take full responsibility for the accident,.
2020.05.15: Three state government investigators identify a temperature surge in a styrene storage tank due to a clogged cooling system as the likely cause of the styrene release.
2020.05.14: The Government of Andhra Pradesh makes arrangements with LG Polymers to remove 13,000 tons of styrene remaining at the plant for shipment to South Korea.
2020.05.14: UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, issues a statement noting that, “It is yet another preventable disaster within the chemical industry that has caused horrific suffering among innocent workers and local communities in India and is yet another reminder that around the world, mini-Bhopal chemical disasters continue to unfold with shocking regularity.”
2020.05.14: LG Chemical issues a press release noting the arrival of the technical team and announcing support measures. The company states that, “We will soon set up specialized institutions to conduct surveys on health and environmental impacts and disclose the results transparently.”
2020.05.14: A technical team from LG in South Korea arrives in India to “resolve the situation and assist with real-time remedial and rehabilitation measures.”
2020.05.13: Vivek Yadav, second-in-command at the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, tells Associated Press that the agency was “examining the issue in detail” in response to revelations that the agency could have fined LG or denied its permit until it received the federal environmental clearance, but never did so.
2020.05.13: LG Chemical spokesman, Choi Sang-kyu, tells Associated Press that the 2019 affidavit, “was a pledge to comply with the law in the future and not an admission of any violations.” Associated Press reported that the company expanded its operations five times between 2006 and 2018, but it never received the required federal environmental clearance. The LG affidavit states that, “As on this date our industry does not have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority, for continuing operations.”
2020.05.11: A report written by Sagar Dhara (consultant to UNEP and Government of India) and K Babu Rao (Indian Institute of Technology) noted that if LG had sounded a siren as soon as the temperature begin rising in the tanks, and if the residents were trained in emergency response, “all 12 deaths could have been avoided and injury could have been minimized.”
2020.05.11: LG refuses to comment on Guardian UK reporting that the company “was operating its polystyrene plant without the mandatory environmental clearance from the Indian government.”
2020.05.11: The Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory determines that the styrene storage tank at LG Polymers was not maintained below 20℃ as required.
2020.05.09: Protests erupt in the community surrounding LG Polymers with demands to take action against company officials and prevent restarting the plant.
2020.05.08: LG Chemicals releases an apology on its English language Korean website promising “to do our best to handle the situation and prevent any incident in the future.”
2020.05.08: The Human Rights Forum calls for criminal prosecution of LG management and officials of regulatory bodies for negligence.
2020.05.08: The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) issues a statement on the LG tragedy emphasizing the need for corporate accountability.
2020.05.08: The National Green Tribunal directs LG Polymers to deposit an interim fine of ₹50 crore (~US$6.6 million, ~₩8.1 billion) due to “damage to life, public health and environment” and forms a committee to investigate the tragedy.
2020.05.07: Indian police file a culpable homicide and negligence complaint against LG Polymers.
2020.05.07: LG Polymers, a polystyrene manufacturing plant owned by South Korea’s LG Chemical, releases toxic styrene gas into the nearby residential area in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, killing 14, sending hundreds to the hospital, and causing the anxious evacuation of thousands of people.
2019.05.10: LG Polymers in India admits in an affidavit that, “As on this date our industry does not have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority, for continuing operations.” The environmental clearance is a required federal government permit to operate.
2019.05.08: The Korean Ministry of Environment catches LG Chemical altering and even fabricating pollution release data.
2019: LG Group reports 250,000 employees and sales of US$137.2 billion. LG Chemical is one of 70 subsidiaries of LG Group.
2018.11.09: LG Chemical announces appointment of Mr. Shin Hak Cheol as Vice Chairman & CEO of LG Chemical. Mr. Shin formerly served as Vice Chair and Executive Vice President of 3M.
1997.07: LG Chemical takes over Hindustan Polymers and renames it LG Polymers.