Explained: Styrene Gas Leak in Vizag, Everything We Know So Far


LG polymer plant in Gopalpatnam, Visakhapatnam.

As per the latest figures, As many as 11 people succumbed, and more than a thousand were affected due to a gas leak accident that happened at the Gopalapatnam area in Vishakhapatnam, Andhrapradesh.

According to the first reports, the incident took place at South Korean company LG’s polymer plant, at the time when workers were busy preparing the plant to restart production amid the relaxation in lockdown announced by the government. The poisonous gas turned out equally devastating for other animals, hundreds of cows, dogs and poultry birds died as a result of prolonged exposure. Following prompt action by local police, state & national disaster response force, conditions quickly came under control, leaving many families grieving the loss of their loved ones.

What is styrene?

Styrene is a popular industrial compound used in the production of mainly packaging material such as styrofoam, polystyrene plastic (thermocol), rubber, and fibreglass. Officially called Phenylethene, According to The Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989, styrene is classified as a toxic and hazardous chemical.

Symptoms of styrene poisoning?

Short term exposure to lesser concentration than 600 – 700PPM is not fatal for humans; however, symptoms such as headache, excessive weakness, fatigue, irritation in eyes, and gastrointestinal effects may appear. In incidents of high concentration exposure, as it has happened in Vizag, can cause serious ill effects on the central nervous system (CNS), kidney, liver, etc. There is still not enough clarity on whether or not; the fatalities were caused due to direct exposure or organ failure.

An estimated amount, 1800-2000 mt tonnes of gas escaped from LG’s polymer plant. In the plant, the styrene gas is supposed to produce only when the plant is in operation, and this is so because when styrene compound is subjected to higher temperatures, it converts into polystyrene and releases styrene gas. Due to continued lockdown for over a month, there is a fair chance of these stores of styrene managed enough heat from sunlight to kickstart polymerization reaction. Leaving the containers incapable of holding high pressure which wasn’t effectively monitored due to lockdown. This also explains the sudden surge in such leak cases in other parts of the nation.

Countermeasures taken by the government.

In efforts to expunge the active volume of styrene in Vizag, around 500Kgs of a chemical compound called PTBC (para-tertiary butyl catechol), flown from Gujarat via a special Air India flight. It is a catechol derivative, known for acting as an inhibitor to the polymerization reaction of butadiene, styrene, and vinyl acetate. Alternatively, styrene gas could also react with atmospheric nitrogen leading to the formation of Benzonitrile, which is a less toxic form than styrene gas.

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Stories curated by our interns and news crew. Originally reported or general compilation from various available sources and news agencies.

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