MEDIA reports of the release of hazardous vapours from a chemical plant in India with fatalities in the surrounding neighbourhood1,2,3 awakens memories of 2-3 December 1984 and the disaster in Bhopal4.
The incident in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India has multiple causes as described in the Report of the Joint Monitoring Committee to the National Green Tribunal5 which investigated the accident. Particularly problematic was the occurrence during the COVID-19 shutdown, which not only contributed to the incident itself, but also complicated the medical response. The styrene release led to at least 12 deaths, 3,000 affected individuals and the precautionary evacuation of a 2 km radius around the site.
Poor temperature measurement, the lack of adequate refrigeration and the failure to maintain a sufficient level of inhibitor in the styrene solution were significant factors in the loss of control of the self-polymerisation of the styrene in the bulk storage tank.