What Is Styrene: Does It Have a Long Term Impact on Human Body?

Vizag ‘Chemical Disaster’: What’s Styrene Gas & How Harmful It Is?

3 min read
What Is Styrene: Does It Have a Long Term Impact on Human Body?

11 people have died, including 2 children in a village near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, where a gas leak from a nearby plant, LG Polymers, caused horrific scenes. In videos that came out, people could be seen immobilised and fainting.

National Disaster Management Authority on Thursday, 7 May said, “It is a chemical disaster. The response requires expertise on chemical side, on chemical management side, on medical side as well as on the evacuation side.”

What is styrene gas? And how does it impact those on ground and in the future?

Swaroop Rani, ACP West Visakhapatnam told The Quint earlier, "Around 5,000 tonnes of polymer were kept in two tanks and was in the storage system. There was an automatic chain reaction because it is a polymer. Due to that heat, vapours came out."

Styrene is an inflammable gas used in polystyrene and plastic engineering. Here are more details about this chemical and gas.

What is Styrene?

According to the United State's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, styrene is used in the manufacture of plastics, rubber, and resins. A lot of factory workers who make tubs, boats, showers, etc are exposed to this chemical.

According to Tox Town, a website run by the US National Library of Medicine, styrene is also used to make food containers, latex, luggage, toys, etc. It can be found in vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke as well. Some fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, and beverages can naturally have styrene.

How Does It Impact the Body?

According to the US-based Environment Protection Agency (EPA), short-term (Acute) exposure to styrene results in mucous membrane irritation, eye irritation and gastrointestinal effects apart from respiratory effects. Long-term exposure (chronic), on other hand, results in effects on the central nervous system (CNS), such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy.

One can be exposed to styrene through swallowing, breathing and skin contact.

FIT spoke to Dr Sumit Ray, Critical Care Specialist to understand the symptoms and health hazards related to styrene.

He further added, "It has some nervous system effects as well such as causing an imbalance. However, these are not clearly defined. Some degree of imbalance and disorientation do happen."

According to Dr Ray, lab studies have shown that it causes liver damage too in some cases.

"Damage done by chemicals and gases like this is not just about exposure length, it is about concentration too. So, if the concentration is very high then damage can be fast", Dr Ray added.

EPA notes that it could also lead to cancer but despite several epidemiological studies on the association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma, there is no conclusive evidence.

Meanwhile, Dr Randeep Guleria, AIIMS Director, while briefing the media, said,


According to Dr Sumit Ray, "For the lung damage in severe cases, there is no medicine. Supportive care, primarily, oxygen should be given. It is called chemical pneumonitis of the lung cells. If lung damage is severe, recovery may be difficult. They may require ventilators. Some people may also experience long term lung damage."

Experts also believe that recovery can be difficult for vulnerable and elder people.

Doctors suggest that the first thing to do is decontaminate the area and people. What has gone inside the lung can't be reduced but dermal exposure can be reduced.

With healthcare facilities already overburdened due to coronavirus outbreak, it will be challenging for the local hospitals to cope up if more number of people require ventilators. So far, around 250 have been hospitalised, of which 20-25 are critical, but stable.

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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