NEW DELHI: The South Korean head of an LG Chem factory in India has been charged with manslaughter over a toxic gas leak that killed 15 people, police said Wednesday.
The May 7 pre-dawn accident at the chemical plant owned by LG Polymers, a subsidiary of South Koreas LG Chem, in the eastern port city of Visakhapatnam also left hundreds hospitalised and knocked many unconscious as they tried to flee the area.
Chief executive Sunkey Jeong and director D.S. Kim — both South Koreans — and ten other local employees of LG Polymers were arrested late Tuesday after a probe said the company was to blame for the disaster.
"All accused have been charged under seven criminal offences as investigation continues in the incident," investigator G.R. Krishna told AFP.
The charges included a stringent version of culpable homicide not amounting to murder — equivalent to a manslaughter charge — and for polluting the atmosphere with a noxious substance.
The 12 accused were remanded in custody for 15 days after appearing in court on Wednesday, Krishna added.
If convicted they could face up to 10 years in jail or a fine.
The 4,000-page government report accused the firm of negligence and said the disaster was a result of lack of safety protocols and a poor emergency response.
The Andhra Pradesh state government also suspended two environmental engineers working for its Pollution Control Board for "gross negligence" in managing the factory's operations.
The styrene gas leaked from tanks at the polystyrene manufacturing unit that had been lying idle for weeks due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Initial reports said the leak was caused by a chemical reaction. The company had claimed its staff was conducting maintenance during the shutdown period.
Nearly 1,000 people were exposed to the gas and over 500 were hospitalised with symptoms of severe respiratory distress and skin and eye irritation.
Residents were found slumped in the streets after being exposed to the gas, forcing a large-scale evacuation around the plant.
The incident drew comparisons with the Bhopal gas leak — one of the worst industrial disasters in history — when toxic methyl isocyanate was released from the Union Carbide pesticide factory killing 3,500 people in December 1984.
Thousands more died in the following years.