The styrene gas that leaked from LG Polymers which has killed at least seven people and created panic in several areas of Visakhapatnam leading to fleeing of homes in the vicinity of the plant is a poisonous, inflammable gas used in plastic engineering industry, and could have triggered a series of explosions, according to experts.
Plant amidst residential areas
Early morning leakage from LG Polymers, which manufactures general purpose polystyrene, high impact polystyrene and coloured polystyrene caused panic in several areas of the city in the industrial belt Mindhi and Gajuwaka.
“Depending on the intensity of inhaling the poisonous gas, a person could face complications in the lungs and inhaling oxygen. It could lead to fatality due to damage to central nervous system,” Dr. C.V. Rao, Director, GITAM Institute of Medical Sciences, told The Hindu .
Short and long-term effects
Dr. D Raghunatha Rao, former Director, Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital and Research Centre said styrene is primarily used in the production of polystyrene plastics and resins. Acute (short-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in mucous membrane and eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects.
He said chronic (long-term) exposure to styrene in human beings leads to serious multiple complications. He said studies on its impact are inconclusive on the reproductive and developmental effects of styrene. Several studies did not report an increase in developmental effects in women who worked in the plastics industry, while an increased frequency of spontaneous abortions and decreased frequency of births were reported in another study. “Several epidemiological studies suggest there may be an association between styrene exposiure and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma. However, the evidence is inconclusive due to confounding factors,” he pointed out.
Elderly more affected
The gas leak could affect more in the case of elderly and people with respiratory ailments, said Dr. K. Satya Vara Prasad, Director of Visakha Institute Medical Sciences.
Dr. Avinash Pathengay, senior consultant ophthalmologist, LV Prasad Eye Hospital, said the gas could affect central nervous system, peripheral neuropathy and severe weakness and fatigue.
He said the highly inflammable gas could be used in chemical warfare. He said they had opened emergency service to attend to patients if they needed treatment for problems caused in the eyes.