In a devastating incident on Thursday, vast amounts of toxic gas leaked from a chemical factory in Vizag owned by the South Korean JV company LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam. This lethal gas, known as 'Styrene', has affected over hundreds in the 3-mile radius that it rapidly spread to. While rescue operations in the area are ongoing, and the situation is being monitored, here is all you need to know about the toxic compound that has caused this incident.
Styrene, also known as ethenylbenzene, vinylbenzene, and phenylethene, is an organic compound - a derivative of benzene with the chemical formula C6H5CH=CH2. Styrene is largely colourless and has a rapid evaporation potency. It's oily in nature and can sometimes appear yellowish in colour. The toxic compound produces a sweet smell, however, if present in large amounts, it produces a less pleasant odour.
Styrene gas is primarily used in the production of polystyrene plastics and resins mainly in the plastics industry and polystyrene factories. LG Polymers where the Vizag gas leak took place dealt with the production of such polystyrene materials including expandable polystyrene, a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products like toys and appliances.
Styrene gas is highly toxic and is regarded as a "known carcinogen". The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has described styrene to be "a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others"
Immediate effects of inhalation of styrene gas can cause breathing difficulties, nausea and sore eyes. The inhalation affects the respiratory system in a matter of minutes and can cause vomiting, burning sensation and rashes on skin, unconsciousness and can even result in death in a matter of minutes.
Even the ones who manage to overcome lethal exposure of Styrene may have to live with after-effects for life which include subclinical complications like colour vision loss, hearing impairments and dermatitis.
The only way to treat the effects of the gas is to wash the skin and eyes with copious amounts of water and provide breathing support in case of ingestion.
After the gas leak incident in Vizag, the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation advised people to use a wet cloth as a mask to cover nose and mouth to prevent inhalation of the gas. The GVMC has also asked its officials to try to reduce the impact of the gas leak by spraying water. Public address systems are being used to ask people to wear masks.