Vizag gas leak: Why it’s wrong to compare styrene gas leak from LG Polymers to Bhopal gas tragedy

At least eight people have died and hundred others hospitalized after a styrene gas leak from the LG Polymers plant on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam early Thursday.

Soon after it began trending on Twitter, people began comparing the tragedy to the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. People argued that India had not learned from that tragedy nearly 36 years later.

However, while the Vizag gas leak is horrific in its own right, it’s not right to compare it to the magnitude of what happened in Bhopal for the following reasons.


As writer Anand Ranganathan pointed out, styrene’s toxic level in parts per million was 700, while methyl isocyanate is 3. This means it would take 3 parts per million of a given volume of methyl isocyanate to kill you, whereas it would take 700 parts of styrene to kill you

Immediate effects: Thousands of people had died by the following morning after the MIC gas released in Bhopal, with the primary cause of death ranging from choking, circulatory collapse, pulmonary and cerebral oedema.

In comparison, immediate effects when exposed to styrene includes irritation of the eyes and skin, as well as gastronomical effects. While some people have died due to the styrene leak, the number cannot be compared to Bhopal, which saw nearly 300 deaths.

Long-term effects: In 2014, it was reported that nearly 1.5 lakh people, who were exposed to MIC during the 1984 tragedy were still suffering with serious medical conditions that included, nerve damage growth problems, gynaecological disorders, respiratory issues, birth defects, and elevated rates of cancer and tuberculosis.

However, in the case of styrene, 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

The only thing both have in common is that the company owners tried to not take up responsibility. Various courts – both in India and abroad – handled various cases pertaining to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, with the final hearing in India concluding in 2010.

In the case of LG Polymer, while the company hasn’t issued a statement, chances are that the authorities may face a trial for the damage caused to those living around the chemical plant.

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