Criminal Negligence: Locals gathered at the LG Polymers premises in Vishakapatnam to demand justice for victims of the deadly gas leak | Photo: Deccan Herald

India files homicide case against S Korean firm LG Polymers in gas leak case, green court slaps Rs50-crore fine for environmental damage

India filed a complaint of culpable homicide and negligence against South Korean firm LG Polymers after a styrene gas leak case in the facility killed 12 people and hospitalised 800 more. Residents living within a 5-km radius of the factory in the busy area of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night. The levels of styrene (C8H8) were 2,500 parts per billion (ppb) on the day of the leak, 500 times higher than the limits prescribed by regulators, DTE reported.

The state government is set to send back the remaining stock of 13,000 tonnes of styrene to LG Chemicals, which owns LG Polymers. The villages have been sanitised and declared safe to return to. The state has already paid Rs1 crore ex-gratia to the families of eight victims. The remaining four will be paid once documents proving they are legal heirs are provided. India’s green court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped a Rs50-crore fine on LG Polymers India towards damages caused to the environment and life prime-facie. NGT also issued notices to Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the district magistrate of Visakhapatnam, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change and LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd to respond. The court also appointed a five-member panel to find the causes of failure, extent of damage and remedial measures initiated in 10 days. The Andhra Pradesh high court, meanwhile, ordered the state government to submit a report within a week and also appointed a team of experts to study the environmental impact of chemical leakage.

In the light of the “serious incidents”, meanwhile, the CPCB has directed all the SPCBs to ensure immediate compliance of safety norms by all units that manufacture, store or import hazardous chemicals. Overheating and corrosion were responsible for the three tonnes of styrene gas leak. The plant had a defunct volatile organic compound (VOC) detection system. There is no monitoring mechanism installed to specifically detect styrene, DTE reported. The factory had submitted a Rs168-crore proposal in 2018 to the Centre to expand its production capacity by an extra 250 tonnes per day (TPD) from the current 415 TPD. Regulators evaluated several aspects concerning pollution, but no guidelines were set over the leakage of raw materials or hazardous chemicals.

Cleaner air could bring down pollution deaths by 6.5 lakh in India: Study

India can save 650,000 lives a year if the low levels of air pollution during the lockdown are maintained after restrictions end, said the study by IIT-Delhi and Chinese universities, Fudan University in Shanghai and Shenzhen Polytechnic.

The first 30 days of the lockdown, which began on March 23, banning most of the economic activities, saw a 52% average decline in health risk due to air pollution exposure, for particulate matter (PM) across India, says the study. The study titled ‘Effect of restricted emissions during Covid-19 on air quality in India’ also estimated a four-time reduction in health risks associated with other pollutants. Researchers studied concentrations of six pollutants, PM10 and PM2.5, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and sulphur dioxide (SO2) between March 16 and April 14 from 2017 to 2020, in 22 cities across India. The study was published in the peer-reviewed science journal Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection.

Covid-19 will cause biggest ever fall in CO2 emissions: IEA

Coronavirus induced economic and social lockdown would cut global energy demand by 6%, as a result of which carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would fall by a massive 8%, reported the International Energy Agency (IEA) over a week ago. The 6% decline in world energy demand in 2020 due to the restrictions placed to contain the pandemic would be the largest contraction in absolute terms on record, said Paris-based IEA. The 8% fall in CO2 emissions would be six times larger than the biggest fall of 400 million tonnes recorded in 2009 following the global financial crisis, the IEA said in a “conservative” estimate. The IEA advises industrialised countries on energy policy. The agency’s chief Faith Birol said the historic decline “was nothing to cheer”, given the deaths and the economic trauma around the world, adding that governments should instead use the events to build greener energy infrastructure.

Coronavirus triggers bicycle boom? France offers money for repairs, Britons shift to bikes from buses and metro

The Covid19 outbreak seems to have triggered a love for bikes in the UK and in Europe.  France is offering cyclists 50 euros for bike repairs to encourage people to cycle and keep pollution levels low once lockdown restrictions are lifted. The €20 million ($21.7m) scheme will also pay for cycle training and temporary parking spaces. French Minister for Ecological Transition Elisabeth Borne said in normal times, 60% of journeys made in France are less than 5 kilometres [3 miles] – making bicycles “a real transport solution”.

Meanwhile, in the UK, people are cycling to work over fears of catching an infection on buses and the metro. The cycle-to-work schemes saw a 200% increase in bicycle orders from people working for emergency services. The lockdown has also boosted bike sales across the UK.  Broadribb Cycles in Bicester said they normally sold 20-30 bikes a week, but now they are selling 50 bikes daily. AA, the UK motoring organization conducted a poll of nearly 20,000 drivers that revealed that 22% of them planned to cut down on driving after lockdown was over and 36% wished to walk and cycle more.

California drone experiment links large methane emissions with composting

According to a US study that used remote sensing in California, methane emissions from landfill and organic composting sites could be higher than previously estimated. The California Methane Survey used a drone equipped with infrared imaging technology over 270 landfills and 166 organic waste facilities periodically during 2016–2018 to quantify their contribution to the statewide methane budget. The researchers were surprised to find large emissions from two organic waste management methods (composting and digesting), which were originally intended to decrease solid waste emissions.

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