Around 500 kg of chemicals were airlifted from Gujarat and sent to Visakhapatnam on Thursday to neutralise the impact of hazardous gas Styrene that leaked at the plant in the early hours claiming more than half a dozen lives.
Due to the lockdown, officials at LG Polymers Private Ltd, where the gas leak took place, requested the government authorities to arrange a chemical called 4-Teritiary Butylcatchol (PTBC), available with a chemical factory in Gujarat that would help in containing the reaction at an early stage.
“The matter was discussed in the Home Ministry and within 20 minutes, the chemical was arranged and dispatched from the Daman airport to Visakhapatnam,” a senior government official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting to take stock of the steps taken in response to the incident. The meeting was attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah and Ministers of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai and G. Kishan Reddy.
Dr. Randeep Guleria of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), who attended the meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chaired by Mr. Modi, told a press conference that the chances of a long-term impact on residents, similar to the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, was less and it was an “illness that is universally not fatal.”
Dr. Guleria said that styrene could cause harm to humans by ingestion and inhalation. “Irritation in throat can lead to breathing difficulty, wheezing and respiratory distress. It affects the brain leading to headache, nausea, vomiting, unsteadiness and problems in walking. In cases of high exposure, it can lead to coma and an irregular heartbeat. Effect on skin is mild and can also affect eyes.”
He added that there was “no specific antidote and no treatment to reverse” its impact and the treatment was mostly supportive. “On exposure, clothes are to be removed, exposed eyes can be washed with water….some will have to be put on ventilators. Many will require oxygen facility. Nebulization can also be given. In serious cases, steroids have been given. This is an illness that is not universally fatal.”
S.N Pradhan, Director General of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said around 250 families were evacuated from around the plant and a “door to door” survey was on. A specialised team was being sent from Pune. The first responders were the local police and the fire brigade officials.
“Due to continued spray of water, the inflammability of the chemical has lessened. How many kilos of gas has leaked is a matter of investigation. The gas has an impact of 6-7 hours and it had been leaking since 2.30 a.m., so the impact has lessened by now,” he said.
NDMA member Kamal Kishore said about 1,000 people living in nearby areas of the factory have been exposed to the gas leak.