Vizag gas leak a mystery, experts baffled, says ex-engineer at plant

Asked how auto polymerisation could have happened on the day production was resumed at the plant, Anantram Ganapati, a former chemical engineer at the plant, says he too is baffled.

Published: 11th May 2020 08:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th May 2020 08:40 AM   |  A+A-

GVMC deploys mobile sprayers to spray sodium hypochlorite solution at RR Venkatapuram in Visakhapatnam on Sunday (Photo | G Satyanarayana, EPS)

Express News Service

VISAKHAPATNAM:  The gas leak at LG Polymers in RR Venkatapuram was a very rare and strange occurrence, and is a mystery even for experts in the styrene industry, according to Anantram Ganapati, a chemical engineer who worked at the plant for 12 years when it was owned by Mc Dowell & Co. Ltd.
Speaking to TNIE here on Sunday,

Anantram Ganapati

Anantram, who is also a technical expert member of the internal committee headed by the director of factories and constituted by the government, said the gas leak will be a case study for the styrene industry worldwide.

Anantram currently works as an education and administration consultant.

Asked how auto polymerisation could have happened on the day production was resumed at the plant, he replied that even experts are clueless.

“When I was working, the plant was shut and later started functioning several times, but we never faced a problem,” he recalled. 

“There are clear-cut safety protocols, maintenance guidelines, start-up and shut-down procedures, and it is an ISO-certified company. Even when it was under the UB Group it had strict safety guidelines. Once the LG Group took over, the safety mechanism was made more stringent. I have never seen such accidents in a styrene plant,” he said.

However, the leak may have happened due to the release of excess heat following auto polymerisation, he added. “The procedure followed to bring down the temperature was right. Once inhibitors are added to the liquid styrene, it slowly turns into a solid. If the temperature reduces, polymerisation stops. Then, there is no need to add an inhibitor,” he explained. But what left many perplexed was how the temperature had gone up, Anantram said, adding that the decision to remove the insulation to quickly cool down the tank was right.

As for the risk of styrene vapour in the atmosphere, he said it doesn’t stay long as it is heavier than air. “It immediately gets converted into a polymer due to heat.” Referring to reports of the Meghadri Gedda reservoir being polluted, he pointed out that styrene is insoluble in water. “It is a hydrocardon and there will not be any reaction. It can be safely removed from the water by skimming and other procedures such as chemical treatment,” he said. 

‘Not fair to demand relocation of plant’

Anantram further said he himself had been exposed to high concentration of styrene and handled it safely. This is the case with hundreds of employees in the industry, and all of them are healthy, he pointed out. The former chemical engineer went on to oppose the demand to shift the plant. “It was set up when there were hardly any habitations there. Only factory employees used to live in the region. Later, houses were built around the plant. It is not right to demand that it be shifted. Besides, shifting thousands of tonnes of equipment is a tough task,” he pointed out. 

Further, he said contract workers are not deployed to operate the plant as the job is left for professional, trained personnel. Anantram, who executed several revamp projects in the styrene plant and was also the assistant manager of the plant, said styrene was a monomer with a boiling point of 145 degree Centigrade. “It is a liquid aromatic hydrocarbon that is stored at lower-than-ambient temperatures so it does not polymerise and also has a polymerisation inhibitor added.

Once it starts reaching higher temperatures, it gives off vapours and starts polymerising. Styrene vapours may have leaked because of this. The worst case scenario of exposure to styrene liquid or vapour is irritation of the skin, a mild burning sensation, irritation in the respiratory tract, and dizziness if the nervous system is affected. The best immediate remedy is to flush the affected parts with plenty of water. The reported deaths are probably due to asphyxiation due to limited oxygen in the air, which had excess styrene vapour. This can happen with any gas that replaces the oxygen in the air,” he said. “I handled styrene both as a product and a raw material, and can confidently say it is just like any other chemical that needs to be handled with due diligence,” Anantram explained.

Villagers to head back home Tonight, ministers will join
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has told officials to ensure residents of the affected villages return home by Monday evening. In a meeting on Sunday night, he directed them to sanitise the villages, both inside and outside houses, before shifting people back, and told ministers to stay in the village on Monday night. The ministers were told to meet the relatives of the deceased and hand over the ex-gratia cheques

water supply from Meghadri Gedda was halted, say officials 
After a picture of the Meghadri Gedda reservoir with contamin-ated water surfaced on social media, GVMC officials on Sunday appealed to people not to believe rumours, and said water supply from the reservoir was stopped immediately after the gas leak. Samples are being sent for tests every day and the results are awaited, they said

10 discharged from KGH, all victims now stable: Hosp
As many as 10 people who were hospitalised due to the gas leak were discharged from the King George Hospital (KGH) on Sunday. Besides them, a few others were discharged from private hospitals. All gas leak victims at the KGH are now in a stable condition and do not have any major health complications, the hospital authorities said


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