NEW DELHI, May 24, 2020, Hankyoreh. Eyewitnesses to a May 7 gas leak at an LG Chem factory in India that injured or killed hundreds of people claimed that there was “no alarm sounded at the time of the accident” and described people leaving their homes early in the morning to flee the gas, Hankyoreh reported.
Civic and social groups in India are demanding the LG Chem and the South Korean and Indian governments adopt a responsible attitude on the matter. The UN Human Rights Council described the incident as a similar industrial disaster to the Bhopal tragedy in 1984.
On the afternoon of May 15, the Environment Health Center held an online press conference to hear accounts from residents affected by the leak and members of Indian civic groups. Nag Adurthi, a resident who claimed to live 3.5km from the factory where the accident occurred, described a terrifying situation at the time.
“The people at the factory became aware of the leak at around 1:15 am [on May 7]. An official state of emergency was declared by 2 am, but no alarm sounded. People began evacuating at 4 am,” Adurthi said. “
“People were asleep, and they began fleeing when they smelled the gas. It felt like my eyes were burning,” he recalled.
“People were rushing to the hospital on bikes and on foot. Healthy people collapsed on the ground,” he said.
Adurthi went on to say that the “most severely affected people were the ones within a one- to three-kilometer radius of the factory.”
“There was another gas leak and another evacuation two days later,” he added.
Jagdish Patel, a coordinator for the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI), said, “No amount of economic compensation can make up for the damage that families have suffered.”
“LG Chem has been indifferent about observing environmental laws, and it has operated for over 20 years without any form of punishment. We urge the Indian government to let go of these ‘easy industries.’”
Ram Charitra Sah of the environmental group Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) called for support with relief activities, long-term health guarantees for residents, a thorough investigation of the cause of the accident, punishment of those responsible for the leak, and stronger safety protocols.
To date, 12 residents have died and over 300 are undergoing hospital treatment after the gas leak on May 7 at an LG Polymers India gas leak in Visakhapatnam, a coastal city in the state of Andhra Pradesh in eastern India. Eleven of the residents who are being treated are reportedly dependent on respirators. Residents within 3km of the factory have shown symptoms including headaches, burning eyes, and respiratory distress in the wake of the leak, and the Indian government has issued an evacuation order for around 3,000 residents of the area.
The response from the Indian government has been stern. Local police in India have reportedly charged LG Polymers with culpable homicide, while the Indian government has instructed it to transport all of its remaining 13,000 tons of raw materials to South Korea. The National Green Tribunal has established an investigation committee and ordered a deposit of 500 million rupees (US$6,587,830) in connection with the leak. The accident is believed to have occurred after the factory opened before the approval of an expansion of its facilities.
The UN Human Rights Council also called for a thorough investigation, characterizing the leak as a violation of human rights. On May 14, the council described it as an “industrial disaster” along the same lines as the gas leak that occurred in the Indian city of Bhopal in December 1984. The Bhopal leak was the worst industrial accident in history, causing damages affecting around 550,000 people, including 16,000 deaths. Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak shared a message welcoming the police investigation and calling on the industry community to accurately ascertain the damages in human rights terms and assign responsibility where it is due.
“I urge the Indian and South Korean governments, and the businesses implicated, to avoid the same mistakes and abuse of judicial procedures that have denied justice to the victims of the Bhopal disaster, who are still suffering to this day,” he said.
S. Korea was once victim of same practices that it now perpetrates
Paek Do-myung, a professor of environmental health sciences at Seoul National University who attended the press conference as a South Korean expert, explained, “Toxic gas was leaked in high enough concentrations that people were killed.”
“In the past, there were issues with German and Japanese asbestos businesses operating in South Korea without observing standards. Now it’s South Korea that is in the position of perpetrator,” he observed.
“LG Chem has apparently proposed putting up a building as a way of compensation for the damages, whereas Indian civic society has been demanding ongoing efforts to assume responsibility, including treatment for the victims’ trauma,” he said.
By Choi Woo-ri