Vizag gas leak: How acute exposure to Styrene gas harms human body in the short and long term
Some of the long term effects include headaches, depression, fatigue and weakness, hearing loss, balance and concentration problems, cancer.
As details trickled out on the nature of the gas leak at the LG Polymers in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh on Thursday that killed at least 10 people and forced hospitalisation of hundreds of others, it became evident that it was the leakage of styrene gas that triggered the tragedy.
The National Disaster Response Force's Director-General S N Pradhan said, "This is Styrene gas that affects the central nervous system, throat, skin, eyes and some other parts of the body."
People living near the facility and those affected by the gas leak said they were facing difficulties in breathing, rashes, irritation of the throat, sour eyes, vomiting. Many animals and people were also seen fainting on the road.
The plastic plant was being prepped to re-open after the entire nation had been under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The gas leaked occurred in the morning, around 2.30-3.00 am IST. People living in a five-kilometre radius of the plant are affected and around 1000-1500 people have been evacuated. About 80-100 people have been hospitalised and at least 10 persons, including two senior citizens and an 8-year-old girl, have died, reports Times of India.
What is Styrene gas?
It is a colourless, flammable liquid that has a sweet odour and when manufactured it is said to have a sharp odour. It is also highly volatile which means it can be seen as a liquid when exposed to low temperatures or high pressures. It is used in the production of polystyrene plastics, fibreglass, rubber, and latex. It occurs naturally in small quantities in some plants like in the resin of Liquidambar trees and in foods like cinnamon, coffee beans, and peanuts and can also be found in tar.
Styrene is found in consumer products like cigarettes, vehicle exhaust and in household and building products like car and truck parts, tanks, bathtubs and showers, etc.
How acute exposure to Styrene gas affect human beings
Dr D Raghunatha Rao, former director of Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, on Styrene gas leak and its effect on human beings, explained to The News Meter, "Acute (short-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in mucous membrane and eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects. Chronic (long-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the central nervous system, such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy’."
Other effects include gastrointestinal and respiratory effects and headaches, depression, fatigue and weakness, hearing loss, balance and concentration problems, cancer are some other long terms effects that have been reported by the US's National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Although there aren't many studies that have been conducted on the effect of styrene gas. However, The Environmental Protection Agency, in a paper published in 2016, states that one study has shown that women working in the plastics industry showed an increased frequency of spontaneous abortions and decreased frequency of births. Other studied have suggested there may be an association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukaemia and lymphoma.
A subsidiary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated that Styrene can affect children the same way it would adults. Nursing children can be exposed to the gas via the breast milk of their mother.
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