Work has begun to remove the styrene monomer inventory from a chemical plant in Vishakhapatnam, India, that was the scene of a May 7 gas leak that killed 11 people and sickened hundreds.
The government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh ordered South Korean owned LG Polymers to remove 13,000 metric tons of the material from the country by the end of the week, Indian media reports.
A government inspection team found evidence that polymerization of the liquid styrene had begun in another storage facility at the site. Polymerization due to prolonged storage is suspected as the cause of the fatal gas leak the New Indian Express reports.
Polystyrene is a vinyl polymer used in a wide variety of products. The monomer-polymer mixture has to be kept cool to avoid mass polymerization by exothermic reaction.
The plant had been recently reopened after a 40-day lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gas leaking from the plant swept through five nearby villages leaving many unconscious with breathing difficulties, eye irritation and skin rashes. Among the fatalities were two elderly residents and an 8-year-old child.
The government arranged for the styrene gas contained in five remaining storage tanks to be transported back to South Korea in two separate shipments by boat. The contents of the sixth tank completely polymerized after the massive leak.
The incident in Vishakhapatnam brought back memories of the 1984 industrial gas leak in Bhopal that killed 3,787 people. Last year 21 workers at a plant in Nira-Nimbut were hospitalized after a chemical leak.