“Styrene being a toxic chemical, it should be handled by observing all safety measures”
Article by – R. Rajasekharan Nair
Today, all our efforts are diverted to contain the spread of COVID-19. To fight against COVID-19 Pandemic, our country has resorted to the lockdown procedures which began on 25th March, 2020. The COVID-19 Lockdown period was extended thrice and now we are in the fourth phase of lockdown, which will end on the 31st May, 2020.
During the lockdown period, almost all the economic activities of the country were stalled. However, in phase 3 of the lockdown, some relaxations were given to resume selected production activities especially in Micro, Small and Medium Establishments (MSME) units. The LG Polymers India Private Limited (LGPI), Visakhapatnam, is one among the few units who wanted to resume the production, after a gap of 40 days COVID-19 induced lockdown. Accordingly, the plant started its maintenance activities and during this process, the Styrene gas leaked from the plant in the early hours of 7th May, 2020. The styrene vapour spread over R.R. Venkatapuram and four other villages of Visakhapatnam in a radius of 1.5 to 3 KM. After inhaling the styrene gas, 12 persons died and more than 300 were hospitalised, out of which the condition of 20 were critical, requiring ventilator support. Due to this tragedy, more than 2000 residents had to be evacuated from areas in the vicinity of the LGPI.
Incidentally, no employee of LGPI was injured in this accident. Since no factory employee was injured, probably, it may not be treated as an industrial disaster under the purview of the Factories Act of India, 1948. Nevertheless, it should be treated as one of the major chemical accident in India, in recent years, though its severity and impact is much less than that of Bhopal Gas Leak, which had occurred about 37 years ago. Probably, had the COVID-19 Pandemic was not there, this accident would have drawn more attention than the present, because presently the people are more worried about the spread of Coronavirus and its higher strikes down rate.
As the styrene gas leak at LG Polymers India Private Limited is a major chemical disaster, this article is focused on the potential health hazards of styrene and preventive measures to be adopted to mitigate the recurrence of similar accidents in future.