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A Toxics-Free Future

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Timeline of LG Tragedy in India

Joe DiGangi, PhD
Senior Science and Technical Advisor, IPEN

About LG Chemical

LG 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.

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.

2020.01.08: An Environmental Health and Safety newsletter from LG Polymers calls attention to risks from explosions but fails to mention styrene, the plant’s main chemical, which is explosive.

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.