AP govt steps in to allay fears of villagers about fresh leak;death toll put at 12

(Corrects place of origin given wrongly as Chennai,Recasts intro, combines related stories) Visakhapatnam, May 8 (PTI) Rumours of a fresh vapour spread from the LG Polymers plant near here created a scare in nearby villages on Friday but the government sought to assuage people's fears, saying it was a 'miniscule technical leak' and that experts were working to ensure the breach was completely plugged.

All the chemical tanks in the plant where a gas leak left 12 dead since Thursday are safe as a large chunk of the styrene vapour has been polymerised so far, District Collector V Vinay Chand said.

A 'miniscule technical leak' had occurred at the factory but it was controlled and the process of neutralisation is on, officials in Delhi said.

The company also issued a statement saying the situation at the plant was now under control and there was no further leak of the styrene vapour.

'All necessary measures like using added water are being taken to keep the temperature under control,' it said.

A Union home ministry official cited media reports of a second gas leak at the factory late on Thursday night but said it was a 'miniscule technical leak.' 'It is clarified that this was a miniscule technical leak. It is required to bring the container in control. It has been controlled and the process of neutralisation is already underway. The situation is under control,' the official said.

AP Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney, who reviewed the situation with the Visakhapatnam district administration in the evening, put the death toll from Thursday's incident at 12.

Meanwhile, in a report submitted to Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy during a video conference earlier, the district Collector said it might take 18-24 hours for the remaining vapour to polymerise, a process to bring down the temperature below 20 degree Celsius where styrene remains in its original liquid form, and turn safe.

'We have taken all measures to plug the leak completely and experts are closely monitoring the situation. The situation is now fully under control,' the Collector added.

Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) are on the ground to support the local administration.

Meanwhile, the wait for the evacuated villagers to return home just got longer as they have to stayput in relief camps for anothr 48 hours, even as technical experts from Gujarat and Nagpur got fully engaged in the task of neutralizing the styrene.

The PTBC inhibitor that was airlifted from Gujarat to Visakhapatnam was put to use on Friday evening to neutralize the effect of styrene.

With the state government asking them to stay back in the camps until further advice, the over 10,000 evacuees are spending a rather uneasy time.

The state government is providing food to these people.

As more than 454 villagers, majority of them from RR Venkatapuram where the polymers plant is located, are still in hospital undergoing treatment for various medical conditions, their kin are also holed up in the hospitals tending to them.

Post-mortem on the bodies of the deceased was completed on Friday evening and the mortal remains were handed over to their families.

Of the total 454 people undergoing treatment in various hospitals, 20 were having major problems, Sawhney said.

All of them were recovering, she added.

'The temperature is still around 120 degrees in the styrene tank and the situation will come under control in the next 48 hours.

Watering of the styrene tank will continue for the next 24 hours and we will observe the density of the vapour in the air,' Sawhney told reporters.

On Friday, the density of styrene was found to be 0.2 parts per million in RR Venkatapuram but zero in Vepagunta and other places.

Hence, she advised people of the villages to stay in the relief camps till the situation returned to normal.

The state government released Rs 30 crore to the Visakhapatnam district collector to distribute Rs one crore each as ex-gratia to the kin of the deceased and other assistance to those hospitalised.

Deputy Chief Minister (Health) A K K Srinivas, his cabinet colleagues Mekapati Goutham Reddy K Kanna Babu and others visited the LG plant and also the King George Hospital and consoled the victims.

Reddy, the Industries Minister, said stern action would be initiated against those responsible for the leak.

'I told the South Korean Ambassador clearly that they should act in a responsible manner and take all steps as they do when such a mishap occurs in the USA or Europe,' he said.

Meanwhile, Nilam Sawhney issued an order appointing a high-level probe into the causes behind the gas leak and suggest measures to improve the protocol for industrial safety of similar types of plants. PTI DBV SA BN WELCOME BN WELCOME