India arrests South Korean CEO among 12 others over gas leak

The arrests were made under a case of culpable homicide after a leak at a chemical plant killed 12 people in May.

    India arrests South Korean CEO among 12 others over gas leak
    At least 800 people were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and irritated skin after a gas leak at the LG Polymers Plant in Visakhapatnam [File: Reuters]

    Indian police have arrested 12 LG Polymers officials, including its South Korean chief executive, an officer said, two months after a gas leak at the company's south India chemical plant killed 12 and injured hundreds.

    The arrests were made under a case of culpable homicide filed against the company's South Korean parent, LG Chem Ltd, when the leak occurred in May, police commissioner Rajiv Kumar Meena said on Wednesday.

    "A total of 12 members including the CEO and two directors were arrested on Tuesday evening," Meena, the top officer in the port city of Visakhapatnam where the plant is located, said.

    Among those arrested were two directors, one of whom was a South Korean, Meena said.

    Toxic styrene gas leaked from the chemical plant on May 7, choking many people who were sleeping.

    This week, a government-appointed committee recommended that the plant be shifted away from human habitation and called for action against the top employees. 

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    The leak took place around 2:30am on a Thursday when most people were asleep.

    Footage on Indian television channels showed people, including women and children, slumped motionless in the streets after residents raised the alarm in the early hours.

    "There was utter confusion and panic. People were unable to breathe, they were gasping for air. Those who were trying to escape collapsed on the roads - kids, women and all," resident Kumar Reddy told local media.

    Police said that styrene gas leaked out of two 5,000-tonne tanks which had been left unattended as the factory was closed for 40 days during India's lockdown.

    They said that heat produced inside the tanks was released soon after the factory reopened.

    According to officials, a blanket of gas spread over a radius of about three kilometres (1.9 miles), sickening people in at least four villages. 

    Rescuers broke open the doors of village homes that were locked from the inside and found some people who had collapsed and transported them to hospitals.

    At least 800 were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and irritated skin. The leak was stopped by 8am, officials said.

    The incident echoed one of the worst industrial disasters in history when gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal in 1984.

    About 3,500 people died in the days that followed and thousands more in the following years. People still suffer its after-effects now.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies