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How dangerous is Styrene, Vizag's killer gas?

By The Rediff News Bureau
Last updated on: May 07, 2020 13:04 IST
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Styrene, the gas that leaked from the LG Polymers’ plant in Visakhapatnam in the wee hours of Thursday, killing eight people and affecting more than 100, affects the central nervous system, throat, skin, eyes and some other parts of the body, according to NDRF Director General S N Pradhan. 

IMAGE: Vapour billows out from LG Polymers factory in RR Venkatapuram village of Visakhapatnam after a major chemical gas leak on May 7, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo.

A Wikipedia page describes the gas as a ‘known carcinogen’ although it goes on to say that various studies have failed to establish that it causes cancer in human beings. 

South Korean company LG Polymers makes polystyrene and expandable polystyrene, a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products like toys and appliances and has been in operation since 1961. 

 

According to the Center for Disease Control, USA, ‘Styrene is a chemical 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’. 

It goes on to say: ‘The human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of styrene are unknown. Workers exposed to large amounts of styrene can develop irritation of the eyes and breathing passages. With long-term and large exposures, workers using styrene have had injury to their nervous systems.’ 

The Environmental Protection Agency, USA, says, ‘Acute (short-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in mucous membrane and eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects.  Chronic (long-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the central nervous system (CNS), such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy.’  

On Thursday in Visakhapatnam, hundreds of villagers, most of them children suffered the consequences of the vapour leak like irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea and rashes, and over 100 people were admitted to government and private hospitals. 

Several police personnel, who came for the rescue operation, also suffered symptoms like breathlessness, irritation in eyes and fell unconscious. 

The vapour leak occurred when some workers were making preparations for the re-opening of the unit following easing of the ongoing lockdown restrictions. 

The 20-odd workers in the plant were well-versed with safety protocol and took appropriate steps and therefore did not suffer. 

However, the styrene vapour spread to nearby villages and left the unsuspecting people suffering while fast asleep. 

Pradhan said a special gas leakage team of the NDRF is on the spot and checking on people who are feeling uneasy.

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