The police in Andhra Pradesh registered a case on Thursday against LG Polymers after a gas leak in its Visakhapatnam unit claimed at least 11 lives, The Hindu reported.

Hundreds were hospitalised after the gas leak occurred at the LG Polymers Plant at RR Venkatapuram near Naiduthota area between 2.30 am and 3 am and reportedly spread over a radius of about 3 km, affecting at least five villages. The incident triggered panic and several people were found unconscious on the streets as some experienced breathing problems. Some people also complained of rashes on their body and a burning sensation in their eyes.

The Gopalapatnam police registered the case against the authorities under sections 284 (negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code. Sections 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health) have also been slapped against the company.

RR Venkatapuram Village Revenue Officer MV Subba Rao filed the complaint against the company. LG Polymers is the manufacturing unit in India of South Korean conglomerate LG Chem.

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Hundreds of residents were evacuated from nearby areas as the gas leak spread. Reports of a second leak also made the rounds, but were refuted by the Andhra Pradesh Police. The company also dismissed reports of another leak as locals raised concerns after the evacuation radius was widened.

“There was not a second leak and LG Chem has asked the police to evacuate residents as a precautionary measure as there are concerns that tank temperatures would rise,” the statement read, according to Reuters. “We are taking necessary measures, including putting water into the tank.”

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs also issued a statement saying it was a “minuscule technical leak”, reported ANI. “There are media reports that there was another leak,” the ministry said. “This is clarified that this was a minuscule technical leak. It’s required to bring the container in control. It’s been controlled and process of neutralisation is already in process. Situation is under control.”

Firm didn’t have environmental clearance

Meanwhile, documents in possession of The Indian Express showed that the firm had not obtained an environmental clearance for its chemical plant between 1997 and 2019. The company has admitted in a submission to the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority that it did not have a “valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority for continuing operations” as of May 10 last year.

The company also admitted that it had expanded its production at the chemical plant “beyond the limit of environmental clearance or changed the product mix without obtaining prior environmental clearance as mandated under the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] notification, 2006”. In its May 2019 submission, the firm had claimed it would rectify the violation.

Hindustan Polymers was set up in 1961 and later taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem. In 1997, it was renamed as LG Polymers India. The chemical plant produces polystyrene and expandable polystyrene – a plastic used to make a wide range of items like toys and appliances.