Vizag Gas Leak Tragedy: All That We Know About Styrene, Its Uses And Ill-Effects

Vizag Gas Leak Tragedy: All That We Know About Styrene, Its Uses And Ill-Effects

by M R Subramani - Friday, May 8, 2020 05:51 PM IST
Vizag Gas Leak Tragedy: All That We Know About Styrene, Its Uses And Ill-EffectsLG Polymers India Plant
  • Television footage of the incident showed people lying unconscious on the roads near the site and many being carried in ambulances.

A gas leak from LG Polymers India, an arm of South Korea’s LG Chem, at Venkatapuram in Visakhapatnam city, Andhra Pradesh, this morning (7 May) left at least 11 people dead and nearly 5,000 sick.

Media reports said between 500 and 800 people had been hospitalised complaining of breathlessness, sore eyes and skin rashes.

Times of India reported that 128 persons were admitted to a private hospital from Venkatapuram and 98 of them had recovered. Ten of those hospitalised complained of breathing difficulties.

More casualties from the gas leak are unlikely.

The leakage of the gas, styrene, occurred from the plant around 3 am when arrangements were being made to open it post-lockdown, according to National Disaster Response Force officials.

Television footage of the incident showed people lying unconscious on the roads near the site and many being carried in ambulances.

The effect of the gas leakage was felt even two km away from the chemical unit. Residents at Santhoshpuram, two km from LG polymer unit, complained of breathlessness and vomiting, while some fell unconscious.

The incident rekindled memories of the gas leak at the US firm Union Carbide’s unit in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh in 1984. Nearly 3,750 died from the incident and over five lakh people were left exposed to the harmful methyl isocyanate gas.

PM Calls AP Chief Minister, Holds NDMA Meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy and enquired about the incident.

Modi then called for a National Disaster Management Authority meeting following the incident with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah taking part in it.

Andhra Pradesh Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy told the media that the South Korean embassy has been approached to seek an explanation from LG Polymers senior management.

The Andhra Pradesh Government has ordered a detailed probe into the incident, while various amount of compensation has been announced for the affected.

“A gas leak happened, that should not have. So, the company is at fault- no matter what. The company senior management has not yet given an explanation to us… The company has to give an explanation to the Government. Stringent action will be taken on them post inquiry,” he said.

The South Korean company said it was looking into the reasons for incidents.

Gas Neutralised

Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police Damodar Goutam Sawang said the gas has been neutralised and investigations into the incidents were on.

ANI quoted Ashwani Kumar, Secretary to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani as saying that that 500 kg of para-tertiary butyl catechol chemical will be airlifted from Daman by Andhra Pradesh government for neutralising the gas leakage at the Visakhapatnam plant.

So, what do know abut LG Polymers, its plans, styrene and the chemicals after-effects?

Korean Firm Took Over The Plant in 1997

The LG Polymers plant was set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers to produce polystyrene and its co-polymers at Visakhapatnam. In 1978, it was merged with United Breweries unit Mc Dowell & Co Ltd.

LG Chemical considered India as an important market and identified Hindustan Polymers as a suitable company for entering the Indian market through total takeover.

In July 1997, LG Chem bought Hindustan Polymers and renamed it as LG Polymers India Private Limited.

LG Chemical has a very strong presence in styrenics business in South Korea and has plans to establish an equally strong presence in Indian market.

LG Polymers is one of India’s leading polystyrene and expandable polystyrene producers.

What is Styrene

Styrene, also known as ethenylbenzene, vinylbenzene, and phenylethene, is an organic chemical compound. Styrene is highly flammable and releases a poisonous gas when burnt. The gas is also possibly carcinogenic and can lead to cancer.

The compound evaporates easily and has a sweet smell. Its high concentrations have a less pleasant odour, though. Styrene can be used to make polystyrene and several copolymers.

It can be used to make latex, synthetic rubber, and polystyrene resins. These resins are used to make plastic packaging, disposable cups and containers, insulation, and other products.

According to the LG Polymers Website, the company makes polystyrene products that are used in manufacturing electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetic products such as make up.

Effect of Styrene on Humans

A “Managing Styrene at Workplace” document in the United Kingdom says its vapour can cause irritation to the nose, throat and lungs at moderate exposure levels.

Its neurological effects include difficulty in concentration, drowsiness, headache and nausea. The vapour and its splashes lead to irritation of the skin and eyes.

Long-term exposure could affect the functions of the brain and kidney. High levels of exsposure to styrene can lead to death or loss of consciousness.

Research studies have shown some association between styrene and higher risk of leukemia and lymphoma.

Overcoming the effects of Styrene

A person affected by a stryene gas leak is asked to drink more water. He or she is asked to wear a wet mask. In the case of irritation of eyes, they need to be washed thoroughly and and eye drops can be used.

In the case of skin itching, it can be ashed with soap and citrizen tan can be used. Overall, to rdduce the impact of of the gas, intake of milk or banana or jaggery (gur) is recommended.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.