Andhra Pradesh: two years after styrene gas leak at LG Polymers, survivors still live in fear

Experts flag lack of a mechanism to monitor the health of the affected people

May 07, 2022 07:17 pm | Updated 07:17 pm IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

A file photo of gas leaking from the premises of LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam in May 2020.

A file photo of gas leaking from the premises of LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam in May 2020.

The survivors of styrene monomer leak on the premises of LG Polymers in the city still live in fear, and many are yet to recover from the trauma even two years after the incident.

On May 7, 2020, styrene monomer turned into vapor due to intense heat and leaked out of a storage tank vent in the plant located at R.R. Venkatapuram in the city.

The gas leaked at around 3 a.m. when people were fast asleep and spread across the city, primarily affecting five villages in the vicinity of the company – R.R. Venkatapuram, Padmapuram, BC Colony, Gopalapatnam, and Kamparapalem.

The incident had claimed the lives of 12 persons. While 1,000 people had to be hospitalised, another 2,000 were affected.

As per a survey conducted by the Alluri Sitharamaraju Vignana Kendram and Research Centre (ASVKRC), over 30% of the residents in the five villages still suffer from anxiety and some psychological issues.

What concerns the environmentalists and medical experts is that the health monitoring system has taken a backseat.

“Styrene is possibly carcinogenic and, if inhaled in good quantity or exposed to a longer time, can lead to a number of health issues related to neurological, psychological, skin, eye or lungs,” says D. Raghunadha Rao, Chief Medical Oncologist at KIMS-ICON Hospital.

Recently, Dr. Raghunadha Rao and a team of experts, comprising V. Ramana Dhara of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad; G.R. Sridhar of Endocrine and Diabetes Centre; and Thomas H. Gassert of the Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA; had published a detailed paper in the Journal of Dr. NTR University of Health Sciences, highlighting the health issues pertaining to the incident and how to mitigate such disasters.

‘No baseline data’

They pointed out that the authorities concerned had failed to collect the baseline data for future monitoring of the case.

“It is important to study the immediate toxicity, intermediate toxicity, and long-term toxicity. But we do not have the baseline data to study, and it will be difficult to study the children who will be born to the affected people,” says Dr. Raghunadha Rao.

K. Padma of Alluri Sitharamaraju Vignana Kendram and Research Centre points out that about 50% of the affected people still experience headache, 27% giddiness, 39% have eye issues; and about 30% have skin problems.

Founder of ASVKRC and CPI(M) State Secretariat member Ch. Narasinga Rao says the promised super-specialty hospital is still on paper. A full-fledged clinic too has not been set up.

Jagdish Patel of the People Training and Research Centre, Vadodara, alleges that both the Union and State governments have been paying least interest in occupational health subject. It is time for the Union government to ratify the ILO Convention 155, he says.

“At least six committees have concluded that the accident occurred due to the negligence of the management, and yet there is no action against it.”Ch. Narasinga RaoCPI(M) leader

At least six committees, including the one commissioned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the High Power Committee of the State government, had concluded that the accident occurred due to the “gross negligence of the management.”

“The committees have spoken about faulty design of the tank, lack of basic safety measures and lack of knowledge among the staff to run the plant. But no action has been taken against the management,” alleges Mr. Narasinga Rao.

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