-BY Varuni Trivedi
“We were a happy family until Wednesday” said N Greeshma’s parents who lost her life because of the deadly gas release. Her parents found out about their youngest daughter’s demise only after they regained consciousness several hours after the leak. Like Greeshma many others lost their loved ones because of an error that multinational companies call merely a ‘mistake’.
On the early morning of 7, May 2020 as the nation was under a lockdown one of the worst industrial accidents occurred at the LG Polymers chemical plant in R. R. Venkatapuram village near Gopalapatnam claiming the lives of 13 people. The Vizag gas leak, also known as the Visakhapatnam gas leak took place at the outskirts of Visakhapatnam as a vapor cloud spread over a radius of around three kilometers affecting the nearby areas and villages and exposing more than 1,000 people to the deadly gas styrene.
The leak took place around 2.30 am in the night, the gas spread over nearby villages. Around 8 people lost their lives almost immediately and more than 800 were rushed to the hospital as the massive gas leaked occurred at LG Polymers chemical plant. Authorities claim that over 2,000 people have been affected in the nearby villages.
Villages in a five-kilometer radius of the chemical plant were evacuated early morning of 7th. Residents reported being woken up by a cloud of noxious smelling vapor as they struggled to breathe. They suffered pain and itchy eyes and soon fell unconscious. The next day all they know is that they woke up in hospitals and heard the news of the demise of their knowns.
A day after the leak authorities doubled the evacuation area and residents were woken up in the middle of the night by Police. They were asked to board buses and follow the evacuation procedure in case there is a chance of further leakage. The victims came with complaints of vomiting, breathing problems, and severe headaches.
Horrific visuals from the affected areas showed dead cows and people lying unconscious on the roads near the chemical plant in RR Venkatapuram village under Gopalapatnam limits. It was a dreadful sight, videos, and photographs from the tragedy which surfaced on social media show people lying in drains and on roads. There were even some who fell off their motorbikes after inhaling the toxic industrial gas.
What is styrene, its effects on the human body?
Styrene (C8H8) is a volatile organic compound, likely to be a carcinogenic chemical. The levels of this deadly compound were 500 times higher than the limits prescribed by regulators on the day of the Visakhapatnam gas leak, an analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) states. It enters the human body through the skin, eyes, and predominantly through respiration, getting absorbed into the blood through alveoli in the lungs. Short term effects of the gas include irritation in the eyes, hearing problems, and irritation in the gastrointestinal tract causing vomiting. Its effects can be fatal in kids and result in death. Chronic or longer exposure can affect the central nervous system, as of now human studies on styrene toxicity have been few.
The aftermath of the tragedy
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had immediately announced a package of ₹1 crore to the family of the deceased, jobs to one member from the family, and other relief packages. Inspections done in the aftermath of the gas leak have uncovered that there were other storage facilities at the factory that were vulnerable to a leak of vapour on a larger scale. In the meanwhile, an FIR has been lodged against LG polymers Chemical as the nation is still recovering from the trauma of this accident. Many victims blame the sheer negligence of the company’s management which has claimed several lives. On Saturday a protest was organised in front of the main gate of LG Polymers in RR Venkatapuram, Visakhapatnam, as villagers carried four dead bodies of those who died due to the leakage, demanding the shifting of the company.
This incident has yet again left the whole nation dumbstruck and traumatised. This incident questions the credibility of multinational companies and their security protocols. It further poses a question on the management and authorities that cost the lives of 13 innocent people, people who slept not knowing they would never wake up.