Vizag gas leak and health consequences

On 7th May, Thursday; the people in areas around a chemical plant in Vizag, India, woke up with a foul smell. Further the complaints of nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, irritation of eyes, and rashes on the body observed.

It was a Styrene gas leak from a factory which killed at least 11 people. A number of victims laid unconscious street side, as many as 25 people are critical and close to 1000 people have been evacuated. The vulnerability is within an approximately 3-kilometre radius of the plant.  

The company is a manufacturing plant manufacturing Polystyrene and its Co-polymers. After lockdown, workers were preparing for the reopening of the plant today when gas leakng in the early hours.

Styrene gas leak and hazards

Styrene is an organic compound is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of insulation, pipes, automobile parts, printing cartridges and copy machine toner, food containers, packaging material, carpet backing, luggage, shoes, toys, floor waxes and polishes. When burnt, it produces a poisonous gas

  1. Styrene is considered as carcinogenic when it comes in contact with the eyes, skin, ingested or inhaled.
  2. It can have an adverse impact on the nervous system with symptoms like headache, fatigue, depression, memory and intellectual disturbances.
  3. Other hazards include changes in color vision, tiredness, feeling drunk, slowed reaction time, concentration problems, and balance problems.
  4. Doctors said the most common immediate health issues were severe lung injury, often resulting in death, and corneal damage. Many lost their eyesight. One of the most common long-term impacts has been fibrosis of the lung and respiratory crippling.
  5. The environmental protection agencies described styrene to be a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system.

Safety Precautions

Though the area has been neutralized, there are some basic safety measures if you are exposed to the styrene gas.

  • Stay Home. Stay safe.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Wear a wet clothe or a mask for protection, even while at home.
  • Wash your skin with soap; if feeling itchiness.
  • Avoid contact with skin and eyes. If touched, wash them immediately. Avoid inhalation of vapors or mist.
  • The police department has asked people to have milk, banana and jaggery to neutralize the effect of gas.
  • If the feelings are more severe, consult your doctor immediately for medical help. Help others who are facing difficulties in balancing and adjusting the situation.

The repair works were done. The impacted area is getting neutralized with the para-tertiary butyl catechol. The situation is under control. People are requested to evacuate the area within 2 km radius of the spot as a precautionary measure.

If some of you remember the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, the Vizag event, its causes and the reactions of the management and state are disturbingly similar. The Indian environmental and labor safety regulators at the Center and states should act more promisingly.

The ongoing Covid-19 and now the gas tragedy have brought the critical situation. It will be the responsibility of each one of us to take measures communicated by governing authority in bringing the morbidity and mortality down.

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