S. Korean charged over fatal Indian chemical leak
The South Korean head of an LG Chem factory in India has been charged with manslaughter over a toxic gas leak that killed 15 people, police said on Wednesday.
The May 7 predawn accident at the chemical plant owned by LG Polymers, a subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Chem, in the eastern port city of Visakhapatnam also left hundreds hospitalized and knocked many unconscious as they tried to flee the area.
Chief executive Sunkey Jeong and director D S Kim — both South Koreans — and 10 other local employees of LG Polymers plant were arrested late Tuesday after a probe said the company was to blame for the disaster.
“All accused have been charged under seven criminal offences as investigation continues in the incident,” said investigator G R Krishna.
The charges included a stringent version of culpable homicide not amounting to murder — equivalent to a manslaughter charge — and for polluting the atmosphere with a noxious substance.
The 12 accused were remanded in custody for 15 days after appearing in court yesterday.
If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in jail or a fine.
The 4,000-page government report accused the firm of negligence and said the disaster was a result of lack of safety protocols and a poor emergency response.
The Andhra Pradesh state government also suspended two environmental engineers working for its Pollution Control Board for “gross negligence” in managing the factory’s operations.
The styrene gas leaked from tanks at the polystyrene manufacturing unit that had been lying idle for weeks due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Initial reports said the leak was caused by a chemical reaction. The company had claimed its staff were conducting maintenance during the shutdown.
Nearly 1,000 people were exposed to the gas and over 500 were hospitalized with symptoms of severe respiratory distress and skin and eye irritation.
Residents were found slumped in the streets after being exposed to the gas, forcing a large-scale evacuation.
The incident drew comparisons with the Bhopal gas leak — one of the worst industrial disasters in history — when toxic methyl isocyanate was released from a Union Carbide pesticide factory killing 3,500 people in December 1984 and thousands more later.