Early Thursday morning, a deadly gas leak from a chemical factory in Visakhapatnam, India spread over a sleeping neighborhood, killing several and sending hundreds more to the hospital.
The accident came as the LG Polymers factory was beginning to re-open after having been closed for six weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. The factory uses a chemical called styrene to make both foam and hard plastic for computer cases.
Styrene is dangerous, and the tanks that it is stored in must be handled with great care. The company is still investigating the accident.
A person speaking for the local government says that untrained workers may have mishandled tanks of styrene, causing a leak. Other reports suggest that the tanks of styrene were not kept up properly during the six-week lockdown.
The leak released a cloud of white gas at around 2:30 in the morning. The gas spread over a wide area, killing some people and knocking others out.
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When people breathe small amounts of the gas, it can cause them to become dizzy and vomit. Breathing more can make it impossible to move. Breathing too much of the gas is deadly.
At least 11 people have died. Over a thousand more have been taken to local hospitals.
The government has had around 1,500 people in the area leave their homes. The Guardian reports that at least one part of the cleared neighborhood was also an area where the government was trying to contain the coronavirus.
Others, farther away from the factory, were told to stay inside or to breathe through a wet cloth. At first, the government said that people within 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) of the factory could be in danger.
A disaster response team wearing breathing gear and special suits designed to protect them was sent into the factory to stop the leak. By afternoon, the leak was reported to be largely under control.
— Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) (@GVMC_OFFICIAL) May 7, 2020
Later, the government expanded the area to be cleared around the factory. Now everyone within 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) of the factory has been asked to leave. Though there were some reports of a new leak, LG Chem, which owns the LG Polymers factory said the area was simply expanded for extra safety.
The gas leak from the LG Polymers factory strongly reminds many people in India of another tragedy, which happened in 1984. Then, the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India had a deadly gas leak which killed around 4,000 people and poisoned over 500,000 others.
The Bhopal disaster brought attention to low safety standards in India and caused the government to take more action to protect its workers and people.
It is likely that yesterday’s leak will focus new attention on the importance of safety standards.
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