As the present world is facing the tragic threat against the COVID-19 virus, there are additional chaos happening through industrial incidents too. One among the incidents is leakage of Styrene vapor from the Chemical plant in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. On 07 May 2020, the styrene vapour leaked from a polymer plant in the wee hours (around 02.30 am), claimed many lives and left people sick. The styrene leak was brought to control at 07.30 am, more than 2000 people were evacuated from the polluted area as a precautionary measure. Besides, the Andhra Pradesh government has announced 1 crore compensation to the kin of every victim and 10 lakhs to those undergoing treatment with ventilator support.
Cause factor for styrene leak
According to the news report, due to the extended lockdown for the Coronavirus threat, the styrene storage tank in the plants was partially shut down for many days. However, few preplanned maintenance activities happened in the plant. The temperature of the styrene storage tank must be below 17ºC which was elevated beyond the safety level. As there was a rise in temperature the pressure in the storage chamber increased subsequently lead to gasification and vapor leakage.
There are also few other reasons like age and improper maintenance of the container that was being used to store styrene gas and dysfunction of the Volatile Organic Compound detection system at the plant. Moreover, the neutralizer at the plant acted ineffectively.
Quick preventative measures were taken to reduce the styrene storage tank temperature through polymerization. The people in the nearby village were immediately evacuated by respected officials.
An adverse effect of styrene gas
Initially, on exposure to the styrene gas, the public reported throat, eye & skin irritation and toxic smelling. As long as they were exposed to more concentration of styrene, many people felt unconscious. Many had severe breathing difficulties & few were asphyxiated to death. Generally, the acute (short-term) exposure to styrene cause eye irritation & gastrointestinal infection, whereas the chronic (long-term) exposure affects Central Nervous System (CNS) which results in headache, fatigue, weakness, depression, CSN dysfunction, unsteady motion, hearing loss & peripheral lymphoma. For individuals with previous medical complications like asthma & chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exposure to styrene gas will end in severe consequences. Furthermore, in the environmental aspects, styrene produces toxicological effects on animals & plants. Animals are equally susceptible to the toxicgases; cow, buffaloes, stray dogs and several birds were found dead for styrene leak.
After the Bhopal gas tragedy disaster, the Indian government has provided legal regulations and guidelines for the storage, safe handling, and transportation of highly hazardous chemicals, few among them are;
- Environmental (Protection) Act, 1989 which offers a sweeping power to the Central Government to take all necessary measures to protect the environment. It can prohibit or restrict the industries which carry operation or process against the environmental norms.
- The Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 sets land, air & water standards to protect the environment & regulate the quality of life, which is also the source standard for restricting pollution.
- Factories Amendment Act, 1987 sets provision to regulates the siting of hazardous units and insists the safety for workers & nearby residents. The act also mandates the requirement of onsite emergency plan & disaster control measures.
- Public Liability Insurance Act, 1992 imposes a no-fault liability to the owner of the hazardous substances and requires the owners to compensate accidental victims, irrespective of any neglect or default.
- The Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989, confirms Styrene as a “hazardous and toxic chemical” based on its acute toxicity, physical and chemical properties. The rule insists the occupier to take required steps to prevent accidents & limit its consequences to the person & environment. The information, training and, equipment with antidotes should be provided to the persons to ensure safety.
First aid & Safety Measures
On any accidental release of toxic gases, the following approaches should be taken as first aid to prevent detrimental conditions;
- To avoid the inhalation of poisonous vapour, people can use a wet mask and can drink plenty of water as an anecdote.
- If a person suffers from breathlessness, artificial oxygen has to be provided instantly.
- In terms of eye irritation, wash the eyes with a surplus amount of water.
- For skin irritation, the contaminated clothing should be removed immediately and the affected area should be washed with soap and water.
- Some toxic gases evaporate faster & quickly spread in the air, so the person should leave the affected area quickly by the fastest possible route and should wait for the emergency response personnel at the safest location.
Emergency preparedness & technicalities
Chemical threats are preventable if risks are assessed and mitigated promptly. Disaster prevention starts with designing the policies, which should be entrenched from technical, safety standards and, environmental norms.
Competent authorities can develop site-specific emergency planning & control, by meeting the current regulatory requirements. The knowledge & skills in Emergency & Disaster Response to chemical release should be imparted to all personnel across the organization. The onsite & offsite emergency planning has to be structured to protect the internal resources & public.
The procedure for raising the emergency alarm, communication channels, first aid, evacuation procedures, storage, and handling of potentially hazardous substances should be maintained, inspected and reviewed regularly. The industries should strictly comply with the formulated safety and maintenance norms.
To prevent the futuristic environmental defects, the organization should design the environmental emergency preparedness plan and environmental sustainable development programs. Also, it should initiate the environmental development activities & address the negative impacts that the organization produces.
Technical hitch can arise anytime at the process plant. But how the organization handles the malfunction dictates the incidents into a disaster or not.