LG Polymers India, a subsidiary of South Korea-based LG Chemicals, had on May 10, 2017, told the Consent for Establishment (CFE) Committee of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) that it did not require an environmental impact assessment to start production of engineering plastics at its Visakhapatnam plant, and therefore should be allowed to go in for production immediately.
According to the minutes of meeting of the CFE, accessed by The Indian Express, LG Polymers cited a June 25, 2014, amendment made by the central government to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification and claimed that the new rules exempted EIA for “products from polymer granules”. Based on the amendment, LG Polymers had asked the CFE to delete the condition for requiring environmental clearance before starting production of engineering plastics at its Visakhapatnam unit.
The CFE of APPCB, however, refused LG Polymers’ stand and asked it to approach the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and get a clarification on whether the plant needed an “environmental clearance” for manufacturing engineering plastics.
Engineering plastics are a group of enhanced plastics that have better mechanical and thermal properties than lower grade commodity plastics such as polystyrene, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). They are used to make car bumpers, motorcycle helmets and ski boots among other high-grade products.
Mails sent to LG Chemical representatives in South Korea as well as LG Polymers representatives in Visakhapatnam and Gurgaon, on whether they had approached the MoEF&CC again, did not elicit any response.
As reported earlier by The Indian Express, LG Polymers had in an affidavit on May 10 last year accepted that its Visakhapatnam plant did not have environmental clearance for its petrochemical plant for a substantial period of its operations between 1997 and 2019. The affidavit was submitted to the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
The company’s plan to expand the unit last year was classified as a ‘Category A’ project, for which a “prior environment clearance” from the Union Environment Ministry was required. However, the company filed for clearance with the Andhra Pradesh State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority, which in June 2019 transferred the proposal to the Centre.
According to information sourced from the Environment Ministry, the company’s proposal was deleted from the environmental clearance portal in November 2019, as that “it seems that the PP (company) is not interested to continue the project”.
LG Polymers, which had in 1997 bought the plant from McDowell & Company, applied for environmental clearance for the plant from APPCB in May 2019 when it wanted to expand its capacity from 415 tonnes per day (TPD) to 655 TPD. The unit manufactures polystyrene and expandable polystyrene using imported styrene. It also reprocessed primary plastics into engineering plastics.
According to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules 1989, styrene is classified as a “hazardous and toxic chemical”. Styrene monomer, which was being used at the manufacturing plant to produce expandable plastics, needs to be stored at a temperature below 17 degrees Centigrade. While investigations are under way regarding the accident, a possible reason could be that while the plant was shut down due to Covid-19, styrene gas was not being stored at the appropriate temperature, resulting in the gas leakage.