The gas leak in Visakhapatnam which killed at least 11 people and choked hundreds has shocked people across the country. Soon after this mishap, there was also a gas leak in Chhattisgarh that left several ill. Why are suddenly these gas leaks happening?

Although the lockdown was anticipated initially, the announcement barely gave anyone any time to prepare. The implementation had to happen immediately. Overnight, everything had to shut down from factories to offices, schools, transport and even chemical factories.  

The incident in Vizag had been caused by a chemical called styrene. It is a colorless oily liquid that evaporates and can be very harmful for humans when they inhale it. It is a synthetic chemical which is a product of benzene which is used to manufacture disposable cups, latex, synthetic rubber and plastic packaging.

The tanks of styrene had been left unattended when the plant had to shut down abruptly without any measures or proper planning. Swaroop Rani, an assistant commissioner of police said that this led to a chemical reaction and heat was produced inside the tanks, and the gas leaked because of that.  

A second cause for the leak was because the factory was understaffed. The commissioner of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation said that unskilled labour seems to have mishandled the maintenance work because of which the gas leaked.

If skilled workers were told to monitor then this situation was a lot less likely to arise. The National Green Tribunal has declared an interim penalty of ₹50 crore on LG polymers India which is the chemical plant from which the gas leaked.  

There are over 10,000 hazardous chemicals units and over 400 red-category “most hazardous units” in Gujarat alone. A majority of these have been shut down rather abruptly because of the lockdown and there is the possibility of chemicals lying unattended in these units.

Even the smallest mishandling can cost a lot and hence, chemical factories will have to be a lot more cautious amidst this lockdown to avoid further tragedies.