A Styrene gas leaked at a chemical factory in Visakhapatnam, killing at least eleven people, including a minor. Another 1,000 people reported sick after the gas spread in five villages within a three-km radius of the plant.
People woke up breathless and feeling a burning sensation in their eyes as the emission spread to the adjoining villages at around 3.30 am. Some fell unconscious while fleeing, according to eyewitness accounts.
As many as 3,000 people were evacuated to safe places and at least 250 were admitted to various hospitals, according to initial reports. Those in critical condition were put on oxygen support.
Unconscious children being carried by parents in their arms, people laying on roads, health workers scrambling to attend to those affected by the styrene vapour leak and residents fleeing were some of the scenes that played out near here on Thursday, bringing back grim memories of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.
King George Hospital’s G Arjuna said a high concentration of gas near the leakage point and a longer period of inhalation by people when they were asleep made them sick.
Vizag collector Vinay Chand said the administration rushed ambulances and other vehicles to evacuate people soon after receiving the information at around 4 am. Efforts were still on to contain the leakage completely.
Established in 1969, the LG Polymers manufacturing plant produces hypol and EPS polymers, polystyrene, expandable polystyrene and other styrene polymers, according to the company’s website. The Indian subsidiary of South Korea's LG Chem had taken it over 15 years ago.
The plant had been shut for 40 days due to the nationwide lockdown. However, the leakage is believed to have taken place when the plant’s employees were preparing to reopen it following partial relaxations announced by the government.
Chronic exposure to styrene in humans can affect the central nervous system (CNS), causing headache, fatigue, weakness, depression and CNS dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy.
The plant is situated in the upstate of Visakhapatnam. The city and the surrounding area houses to around five million people.