At least eight people have died and thousands fallen ill after a chemical leak in Visakhapatnam district.
The leak was reported at LG Polymers industry in RR Venkatapuram village. People were rushed to King George Hospital after complaining of burning sensation in the eyes and breathing difficulties.
The dead included a child while scores of policemen who rushed to evacuate affected persons also were impacted by the leak of styrene vapour.
But what exactly is styrene? It is an organic compound i.e. made from carbon, and a derivative of benzene. Like most organic compounds, it evaporates easily. Regarded as a ‘known carcinogen’, styrene is metabolised into styrene oxide in humans, which is considered toxic, mutagenic, and possibly carcinogenic.
Effect of styrene on humans
- Short-term effects result in mucus membrane and eye irritations, as well as gastrointestinal effects
- Long-term exposure can result in effects in the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness and depression
- Studies have even shown an association between styrene and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma
- Animal studies have reported effects on the central nervous system, liver, kidney, as well as eye and nasal irritation
- People exposed to styrene due to professional hazards should ideally receive 1 milligram per cubic meter based on CNS effects in occupationally exposed workers.
Earlier, the daybreak saw some grim scenes as visibly suffering people were being rushed for medical assistance in autos and two-wheelers while government workers tried to assist them with whatever first aid possible.
People lying on roadside and near ditches in unconscious state narrated the magnitude of the situation, as the government said arresting the leak was the first priority.
Sources said the vapour leak occurred in the early hours of Thursday when some workers of the plant were making preparations for the re-opening of the unit following easing of the ongoing lockdown restrictions.
State Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said the LG Polymers unit was supposed to reopen post-lockdown on Thursday.
"We are trying to reach out to the top management of the (South Korean) company...our immediate priority is to arrest the leak and ensure proper medicare to the affected people," he said.
While hundreds of villagers, most of them children, suffered the consequences of the vapour leak like irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea and rashes, over 100 people were admitted to government and private hospitals.
Visakhapatnam district Joint Collector Venugopal Reddy said people from R R Venkatapuram village have been fully evacuated and shifted to other places.
Several police personnel, who came for the rescue operation, also suffered symptoms like breathlessness, irritation in eyes and fell unconscious.
The 20-odd workers in the plant were well-versed with safety protocol and took appropriate steps and therefore did not suffer, sources said.
The styrene vapour spread to nearby villages and left the unsuspecting people suffering while fast asleep.
Teams of NDRF rushed to the spot and reports said the source of the gas leak was contained in the morning.
Meanwhile, Amit Shah termed the gas leak as disturbing.
"Gas leak incident in Vizag is disturbing; we are continuously and closely monitoring situation," he said.