Hafta letters: Vizag gas leak explainer, decolonising Indian minds, Indian vs Canadian elections
NL Dhulai

Hafta letters: Vizag gas leak explainer, decolonising Indian minds, Indian vs Canadian elections

NL subcribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

By NL Team

Published on :

Hi Hafta team,

I am a subscriber. My name is Dhruv. My question:

Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government launched a Ayush Kavach Covid app. The basic thing the app does is help people get health remedies that can be useful to fight against Covid-19. The app is being developed by the Ayush ministry.

I just can't understand one thing: Why is the state and the Centre (the BJP government) giving names, like Aarogya Setu and Ayush Kavach, by digging so much into Hindu mythology? Is it only because it suits their narrative or is there some other reason?

I just joined the subscribers' group on WhatsApp and I found your number there. Can I also ask questions there?

Please do answer it. Also, I really enjoyed Hafta 274 because after a long time, Madhu ma'am joined the Hafta. Please call her even more on Hafta, no matter if she's on video call. Keep up the good work.

Thank you.

***

Hi NL team,

Heads up for a long email but I have "tried" being concise. I need a brutal editor in life. But let my thought be a river.

I have a theory that I have been thinking of since a month which may be an answer to N's question on Hafta last week: why are the most aware, well-read, travelled people endorsing BJP and the RSS?

While we may call it bigotry, claim the higher moral ground, and move on; we have to understand the psyche of these people to get past that label and deal with it. Else we aren’t moving towards dispelling the divide or polarisation. To build bridges, and not succumb to the divide and rule strategy yet again, we need to humanise one other.

Many are victims of misinformation and more of colonial mentality.

A colonial mentality is the internalised attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people as a result of colonisation, i.e. them being colonised by another group.

In this digital age, social media platforms are proliferating our everyday lives, altering our self-image and our impressions of where we stand in the world. It has become important to identity not just travelling professionals but broadly privileged upper-caste, upper-class people. We are increasingly feeling the need to decolonise our existence (mind). Passed on and embedded inferiority in the mind has become more immediate in the localised global world. A modest Indian grapples with it much more today than in history (it seems); it may be referred to as a common psychological insecurity, if you will, on a much larger scale.

Pre-internet, the "world" was spoken about in history textbooks (because we were colonised, involvement in the wars, helped in independence) and marginally mentioned in geography where the seasons, atmosphere and galaxy were also spoken about. The everyday mind was busy grappling with the society in front. "My world" was local. Today it is easier to get news in the US than Benaras from the Indian media. "World" has entered our everyday slang vocabulary even in other languages. My grandmother used "sansaar mein" (megacosm/the creation); my aunt uses "world mein".

The combination of the world slipping into our lives with a colonial mentality makes our self-image a breeding ground for buying into the RSS’s cultural project.

The BJP's agenda provides a seemingly close cultural project called Decolonise Indian Minds. It has blogs and videos appropriating the notions of decolonising, changing history textbooks, and countless other initiatives across the country. While these are long-term initiatives, we can look at impacts of short term ones to see its impacts.

When an (ethnic) Indian sees Modi share a stage with Trump, it serves a purpose — to have a racist step up on the stage to say I exclude this section from it. (Pre CAA-NRC) Hasan Minhaj put aside the critique of Modi’s Islamophobia and depoliticised his stance; rather, picked up an apolitical one, not just politically but emotionally. If you heard his defence on Jimmy Fallon’s show, see how he speaks of the desi community as one with awe.

"Howdy Modi" was almost a celebration — of what? Of perhaps feeling "less marginalised" as a desi community (the irony is how the act of feeling less marginalised comes by marginalising the protesters outside the event standing in support of the Kashmiris). For Indians, living in India feeds a sense of "feeling arrived". The hugs and swinging of handshakes is not just PR, it's probably serving on a deeper psychological level. It encourages a sense of pride and not feeling discomfort about where you hail from and who you are. And all the well-captured audio-visual material is great for the social media spectacle, but serving the same psychological need of validation.

The situation is the same in the UK, with this guftagoo in Westminster Abbey between Prasoon Joshi and Modi. It doesn't stop there. Hindu societies are ready to rupture their relationships with the Labour party, using phrases like their actions are "anti-India", because of the Labour party's stance on Kashmir. And they can afford to lay down their bigotry and ask them to change their stance because Boris has been wishing people for Diwali and has pamphlets with women in saris, gives a sense of acknowledgement of culture.

For the record, Labour did amend their stance recently.

An average urban Indian tends to think the country is ignored/invisible to the world, which, in brief, isn't truer. An average Indian doesn't have any idea about the volumes of India diaspora that are scattered across the world, making it impossible to ignore the existence of the country. But they feel visibilised and validated by this whole exercise even if it does nothing to our trade deals.

I have been asked by Indian diaspora (a Tamilian) here if I can bring them a MODI SUIT on my next visit. To my little awareness, I didn’t know the safari suit had a new name. Apparently, it became a fast-running item in the name for a bit.

There is some testosterone high we get out of CEOs being Indian. After Sundar Pichai became the CEO, not surprisingly, I was told by uncles and aunts how the world is realising how intelligent Indians are and how Indians are increasingly being recruited as CEOs. I’m sure WhatsApp University spent much time educating folks... The one time you found "all Indians" not other-ising but own-ising a "south Indian".

I digress, I wonder if an average Dutch person feels any sense of accomplishment when knowing facts like these? This climb over and having a face from your ethnic identity serves a sense of accomplishment.

Obviously a lot of the above comes out of piecing together bits of experience and observations while trying to make sense of it. Hope I don’t sound like another Jaggi and what I offer is better than a concoction of fact and fiction. Just trying to understand more and share this idea with others and to see if, as a community, there is anything useful here to build from.

Abhinandan may still love giving examples of the US at every opportunity he gets, but some male friends are sheepishly or covertly taking pride in the fact that the deaths in the US are more than the total number of cases in India. One even explicitly said how it helps him release the insecurities he may have felt while travelling west. Our humanities are hierarchialised in our heads based on the "performance" of the place we have in the society.

An aunt who is a highly qualified doctor in the US would complain about being made to say salaam walekum while studying in Jamia, which is just an Urdu greeting. We have no issue saying "God bless" to a sneeze, which can be said as intrusion of Christanity, if salaam walekun as a greeting is an intrusion of Islam. Let alone millions of Muslims narrating Sanskrit prayers everyday for a decade of school.

We’ve forgotten how languages serve a strong basis for culture and not religion. Look at Assam’s stand, for example. My father would communicate his surprise at the age of 55, saying that when he was once in a Muslim Gujarati household, he observed how they live and was surprised about how it's just the Gujaratis who are Hindu.

While this observational lens is uncomfortable as an idea, we must understand people who have only been fed this unvocalised otherising of a part of the population have otherised themselves to other people. A family structure that’s so hierarchalised and doesn’t believe in equal respect or dignity for all ages, doesn’t understand the moral concept of treating all humans with respect or dignity.

As someone who moved to the UK recently, it took me a year to understand that because I oppress the house help in my head, I oppress myself in relation to a section of the people here. And to scrap that is a question of identity leading to a slew of uncomfortable questions. While I may choose to deal with it, it’s not as easy because your mind doesn’t give you access to your dark sides easily.

Breaks my heart to say this, but I wonder if the largely privileged upper-class finds accepting the inherited coveted divide/and hate a small cost to "supposedly" liberate from colonial mentality. It’s a shortcut that doesn’t lead to the destination but liberates you from taking a hard journey in your mind and an easier one at that. It’s just ranking you above another community to feed the needs of self-image.

As a person who is trying to decolonise my mind while isolating in the coloniser’s land, residing in an area where the next street was built by slaves of war, I am trying to unpack the implications of decolonisation. And how "independent" is an Indian mind and body, really? If a simple physical act of sharing a stage, shaking hands can have such a deep impact, what is the physical action in the right direction?

The cultural project of Decolonising Indian Minds speaks of our colonial present, in our minds. Thus building away on the colonial legacy in our heads. Many of us embody it. No surprise that the RSS’s cultural project began in the colonial era and was in response to their imposed structures. Much like Tagore’s criticism of nationalism as a reaction becoming a governing factor to find our identity would lead to no good. Similarly, what’s born out of a reaction to colonial constrictions cannot escape colonial thinking.

It’s a cultural project which, on the pretext of saving culture, is altering it. It’s more vicious and dangerous than just withstanding the next four years. Like TM Krishna said in his interview with Mehraj, we need to build alternative culture spaces. We don’t just need a political alternative, we need a cultural alternative, a space that supports the equilibrium. Unless we do that, any and every political party is trying to capitalise on the divide. The system is worked to manifest on our attention and not to work on society. Unless we begin building these long-term cultural projects, we’ll hardly have a sustainable political alternative. We are in a culture crisis with this consumerist culture.

The intellectuals and activists can keep trying to talk about how Hinduism is oppressive in its very structure, but the self-oppressive psyche will not give up the single apparent support system. It gives stability as an institution. While it is messed up, it's a stable institution with so many alternatives within it ranging to "spirituality".

There are few open culturally recreational spaces. Look at how few parks that are left in urban spaces. Cafes are the alternative, a structure born out of capitalism, and arguably is less about food, celebrating our food culture. Most menus have burgers, pastas, quesadillas. I’m not otherising the food but just highlighting them to think what are these markers of?

Not all hope is lost, as long as socials remain famous with their menus being desi. Again their ambience being a fusion of modern and Victorian. We are constantly trying to step in another world with cafe ambiences. The cafes and screens consume our minds and we consume what's given to us. Most of us aren’t conscious of it but before I digress again, let’s start building an alternative culture; only then it seems possible to just think of asking people to think about it critically.

On that note, persuading you to do The Media Rumble this year too, in whatever way possible.

***

HI NL team,

I have been a Newslaundry subscriber for a while. Hafta is a podcast I have been hooked up to the longest. Been about seven years now and Newslaundry feels so personal that's its not just a subscription anymore. Great to see the NL enterprise grow and flourish the way it is!

This email is in reference to the Indian journalistic community's response to the Pulitzer prize being awarded to the Kashmiri photojournalists. I think a fair number of Indian journalists, apart from being biased, are also outright dim and incompetent, holding a narrow worldview. This holds true for the entire spectrum: the Right, Left and the centre.

I recollect Jaggi kicking off a conversation on one of the Media Rumbles, saying a journalist tends to work in an ideological framework. That is probably the most foolish thing I have ever heard from a journalist. I acknowledge we all operate through biases and values we are brought up with. But that doesn't mean you view every story through that prism, more so for a journalist. A story like demonetisation should not have a Right or Left to it. Its like journalists just have one job and that is being objective. Some of them don't even make an attempt.

I often wonder about the schooling some of these journalists go through. How fragile are some of their values, that commerce or bias can so easily turn them into mouthpieces? There probably isn't another profession that rewards incompetence as much as journalism does. It's obviously wrong to generalise the whole community and I acknowledge there are a lot of people doing phenomenal work. But a profession that functions for and by public viewership warrants more discipline and scrutiny.

Is this more of a societal problem with one's personal values/integrity or one to do with lack of professionalism in the broader community? Or is this me being over-reactive and other professions are just as bad?

Thanks

Sandeep Ghatikar

***

Hi,

This is Rohit from Mumbai, stuck in Dehradun (my home).

I'm worried about the constant free hope being injected by news outlets online and TV on coronavirus vaccines (because it gets a lot more audience and people want hope, even if it is false). My college made me take a Hepatitis B vaccine when I first once came to Mumbai. Last year, I had dengue and realised there is no vaccine for it. No vaccines for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and even the common cold.

News outlets should also point out this information and also, even if we develop a successful vaccine, it will take time before an average Indian gets this jadhi-booti. One of the major reasons the common flu has no vaccine is that there are more than 200 strains of the flu virus.

I tune into NL Hafta majorly for Anand and Mehraj. I hear enough Abhinandan and Manisha I miss some right-wing voices in Hafta. I sometimes feel like I'm living in a bubble. Lately I've been tuning into Quora to read right-wing views on topics. But a lot of their arguments boil down to that the government is in its very own right to do things, and not critiquing whether it's right or not. The major problem with people writing on Quora is that no matter how shady the scheme introduced by the government, they are way up the pyramid and it won't affect them ever.

My mother is a bhakt and I've been schooling on basics of everything from politics to governance for the past two months. I don't want her to hate Modi or Gandhi or anyone else, but I want her to know the lies on their lips. This is the only productive thing I've done besides reading novels and helping my mother lose four kg by following a healthy diet.

A minor disagreement with Anand on alcohol being treated as essential: I've been a teetotaller, getting high on Tang all my life. It is definitely an essential. All my friends have it. There was a phase when my roommate used to sip a peg every night before an exam. I asked him what the hell is all this. He told me," Baba, concentration ki baat hai, tum coffee peete ho, hum cocktail." We would have avoided all this mess on alcohol had the government not acted like how a parent treats his kids.

Last month, the Ministry of Defense put out a notice asking military personnel to donate a day's salary to PM Cares for a YEAR! My brother, who flies a IL-76, is furious. He says,"Ek toh mai 30% income tax du, fhir indirect taxes dun aur tum woh paise statues aur YES Bank pe fhook do aur ab mai ek din ki salary bhi dun ek saal tak." He is giving it in writing, stating why he is not donating to PM Cares Fund.

My recommendation is a playlist on Covid-19 by SciShow, a YouTube Channel.

Please suggest some decent right-wing peeps. Jo har baat pe bharat mata ko beech mai na laaye!

Rohit Rawat

***

Hello,

I am doing my masters in France. Have been a great fan of NL, cheers to independent journalism. My favourite is Manisha. I feel the panel is sometimes biased to the Left economically. When I was listening to last week's Hafta comments on the abolition of labour law, many were against it.

I have a few questions.

1) If there are no jobs for labourers, what is the use of stringent labour laws?

2) Also, we need to think: who exploits labour more, the state or industry? Why do we see an industrialist as an enemy and trust the state more (I agree, it is we who have elected)?

3) Keeping hundreds of laws and not opening up for natural demand and supply: will it hamper growth, and take us to the 1970s Inspector Raj?

I also feel we need land and legal reforms along with labour. Feel free to correct me.

Thanks. Keep up the good work,

Sanket Kulkarni

***

Hi! Salman here. I'm a new-ish subscriber and am glad to have access to the content that you open to us as a result.

I look forward to Hafta and Charcha each week. I love how each podcast is an exposition of the diversity of the team's opinion. I look forward to each change of topic to see how the panel gets realigned. Like the scale of believing in the technical independence of Kashmir, marked lowest to highest from Anand to Mehraj.

I also appreciate Anand for being an example that disingenuous manipulation of facts based on internal biases can be done in a non-toxic manner. It is cute when he tries to obfuscate the nub of the argument by going on a long historical lecture to throw things off track. He must be the only living adult who thinks that trick still works. Case in point: trying to add "nuance" to the labourers in Karnataka issue and then saying at the end that he was against the restrictions all along.

Newsance is hands down the best of your AV content. Props to Manisha for being clear that no journalist on any side is a holy cow. I wish I could write and articulate opinion that well.

Salman

***

Dear Newslaundry,

I have been a subscriber for well over two years now, and I would like to congratulate you for not just staying afloat, but thriving in a competitive news environment. It is a pleasure to tune into Hafta every week, which for some time now has been my favourite current affairs podcast from anywhere in the world.

Like Abhinandan, I am a compulsive consumer of podcasts, and I thoroughly enjoy the longform, loosely-structured format of Hafta. As a fan, if I may suggest, could the other participants in the discussion avoid cutting off or snapping at Anand Vardhan while he is trying to express his point of view? Some of us may disagree, quite vehemently, with what he has to say regarding mob lynching, “selectivity” in the media, or Kashmir. However, all of us greatly appreciate his ability to put forth a conservative viewpoint with erudition, clarity, and courtesy.

I would hate to see Hafta reduced to a collective display of performative wokeness. Please keep doing your terrific work, through some very tough times.

Take care, and stay safe.

Nachiket Joshi

***

Dear NL,

This in the context of my previous email so please don't take this email in isolation. It is high time to acknowledge the reality that India's lockdown has failed, that there was no plan, and that poor Indians, once again, are going to be murdered by the incompetence and callousness of the Indian government.

(See the previous email here.)

Around 10 million Indians died in 2019. Expect the government to fudge the real Covid death figures, as what's a few million more dead?

I have only one other point to add to the Covid-19 discussion: International air passenger traffic in India's airports is around 80-100 million annually, a figure comparable to Germany or Italy, both countries that also have open land borders. An effective but draconian response to stem the spread of the virus in India would be curtailing air traffic for some months and quarantining (by the state) of Indian travellers and turning back foreign ones. No light and sound show required.

As opposed to Italy or the US — and this may be an inconvenient truth to subscribers, such as one Dhiraj, who encourage "positive press" — India is a bit player in the global economy and exists on the fringes, despite all the daydreams of being a world power. India doesn't have cruises, large sports gatherings beyond cricket, or significant land border traffic.This virus arrived by aircraft.

Time and again, I've been told to have faith in the future of India. Sadly, my suspicions have come to pass that large parts of Indian "culture" belong in the dustbin, too many Indians are shitty people, and that India is not a country worth fighting for especially given the current desire to become a Hindu Pakistan.

Brace yourselves.

***

Hello Hafta panel,

I have been a subscriber since 2014 and am impressed as I witnessed Newslaundry grow from a podcast and a YouTube channel to a full-fledged media house with multiple reporters, opinion pieces, podcasts and explainers. I try my best to recommend NL to my friends & family but run into the usual "why pay for something when you can have it for free" mindset. Especially for a non-tangible service like news.

I moved to Vancouver, Canada, in 2012 when I was 22. While I am an accountant by profession, I have always been interested in current events and politics and how it affects everything around us. I did not think a lot of it until the 2016 American presidential election, when I realised bigotry and ignorance is more widespread than we think, and winning arguments online does not necessarily translate to electoral victories on ground.

Long story short, I signed up for a Canadian political party that was closest to my worldview and have now volunteered in a provincial (Indian equivalent state-level) and federal (national level) election. My jobs included door-knocking, voter outreach, managing social media, and increase youth turnout. I also had the opportunity to attend party conventions where we would vote for party leaders, representatives to various tables, and resolutions that eventually decided the party policy going forward. A lot of emphasis was placed on supporting grassroots movements and local activism.

I found the whole thing to be super transparent and democratic. Especially compared to the top-to-bottom approach taken by Indian political parties where the party candidates are selected by a group in New Delhi, compared to a local nomination elections we have in Canada where local party members vote if we have more than one candidate interested in running.

I would love to hear the panel’s views on leadership races and how different the Indian political landscape would look like if we had them, both at national and local levels. I feel it does a good job of replacing leaders who lose elections with more charismatic and exciting people who usually have less baggage. I also feel grassroots activists and supporters feel much more empowered and motivated if they have a say in picking their leader/local candidate rather than someone forced on by the party bosses.

I feel I can go on and about the differences, but the one that stands out is electoral financing. Here in Canada we have a ban on corporate donations to political parties with annual limits for individuals. Also, every constituency can only spend so much per election and all electoral donations and expenses by each candidate that ran is public information on the Elections Canada website. There is also a lot of difference in the importance of policy and platforms over personalities during elections.

Lastly, I hardly ever seen any discussion on the first-past-the-post electoral system that India has that results in the BJP winning 56 percent of seats while only winning 37 percent of the vote, while the Congress has less than 10 percent of the seats while still getting 20 percent of the vote in the last Lok Sabha election.

Unrelated, a recommendation I have especially for your American listeners is The Weeds and The Ezra Klein Show. Both are weekly political podcasts by Vox and do a good job in discussing in-depth policy & social implications any given topic.

In closing, I would want to congratulate the NL team on revamping the website. I appreciate the patience Chitranshu demonstrated while moving my account from the old system to the new. NL feels like a much better-quality service, and I would be upgrading to a "Game Changer" subscription when my current one expires in June, now that I have a bit more disposable income.

Stay connected, stay online,

Tushar Jain

***

An explainer of the Vizag gas leak by Rahul Raman

If a monomer is one unit of a compound, then a polymer is a chain of these units.

Polystyrene is a polymer which is formed by combining many styrene monomers. A chemical process is required to convert the styrene monomer to polystyrene like the LG plant in Vizag. These chemical processes have safeguards in place to ensure that a reaction, explosion, or toxic release can be mitigated or prevented.

An additional safety precaution for polystyrene production is the styrene monomer itself. The raw material is a flammable, toxic, and reactive chemical. So, safeguards are required merely to store the styrene monomer in a safe way. The monomer can polymerise slowly even at ambient temperature. This polymerised material is not desired as it is not a valuable product. Therefore, storage and handling of the Styrene monomer is to avoid the following (LyondellBasell, 2019).

  • Hardening/plugging of equipment due to polymer build up

  • Overpressure due to runaway reaction

  • Toxic release

  • Flammable vapour cloud explosion

  • Quality problems of the styrene monomer

To understand the events of the Vizag LG polymer plant, one must understand how to effectively store and handle the styrene monomer. The following guidelines are provided by the Product Handling Guide for Styrene Monomer published by LyondellBaselll (LyondellBasell, 2019).

1. An inhibitor named TBC is used in 10-15 ppm (parts per million) concentration to inhibit the reaction. Reactions can accelerate if the inhibitor is depleted and LG Polymers has ordered 500 kgs of PTBC inhibitor (Source).

(a)

Table 1 Storage Testing Time
Table 1 Storage Testing Time

(b) TBC has a low shelf life and is sensitive to temperature and therefore requires constant addition

2. Storage tanks must also be free from rust and scales as it can promote polymerisation.

3. Continuous recirculation and cooling must be provided to maintain the temperature of tank below 21°C. Lower temperature of less than 18°C is recommended for long-term storage like the Covid-19 lockdown.

4. Vents, manways, hole openings at the top of the tank must be inspected for polymer build-up, as this can indicate a stalactite-like formation within the vapour space of the tank.

Now, this video shows LG Polymers' director of operations, Mohan Rao, making remarks about the operations of the company during the lockdown and on the eventful morning of May 7, 2020, reveals details about the incident and what led to the leak. The reason for the styrene leak is a runaway reaction which resulted in excessive overpressure inside the tank, blowing the roof, and eventual release of the gas. Now, they were not able to stop the leak as the polymer had a runaway reaction and it cannot be controlled. There are some key points made by Rao which I would like to highlight indicating the reason for the runaway reaction.

First, he says that the inventory of the tank is high as the Covid-19 has required us to store the raw material and not process it to polystyrene. This is an acceptable process to store the hydrocarbons; however, it requires following the safety guidelines described above and LG claims that they were maintaining the temperature at 20°C.

Recall that the monomer has the capability to react slowly even at 20°C. They requested the government to continue operations with minimal staff during the lockdown to maintain the temperature of the tank at 20°C for about 1,800 tonnes of styrene monomer.

Second, he says that the there was no movement of material in the tank indicating that the recirculation was not working. This is a critical operation as the pump ensures that the material in the tank is pumped to a cooler where the temperature is reduced and then discharged back into the tank.

Figure 1 shows a typical styrene storage configuration where a liquid float is placed inside the tank. This float collects the styrene on the top of the liquid level which typically tend to be hotter, passes it through a refrigeration system where it reduces the temperature, and then discharges it back to the bottom of the tank. This is how the temperature is maintained at 20°C through out the tank.

With the pump shut off, the temperature becomes uneven in the tank, where the cold fluid settles in the bottom due to a higher density when compared to the hot fluid within the tank. The temperature increase at the top of the tank will continue to occur as the fluid becomes hot, the reaction continues, and as the reaction continues it will release energy increasing the temperature of the monomer. This is the continuous cycle that results in runaway reaction.

However, this may not be a sudden reaction, as explained by the operations personnel; rather, the runaway reaction may have started 24 to 36 hours prior to the roof damage and gas leak.

Third, he made a passing comment indicating that more inhibitor is added to the tank. The effectiveness of the inhibitor decreases as the temperature increases. In other words, the performance on the inhibitor to stop the runaway reaction is reduced due to temperature increase. Therefore, efforts should be made to cool down the temperature of the tank and sampling of the styrene monomer will indicate the amount of inhibitor in the fluid.

As shown in Table 1 it is required to increase the frequency of sampling. However, due to the continued leak it may be impossible for operations personnel to go obtain the sample from the tank. Hence, they would have to use predictive models to understand the dosing rate and add it inside the tank.

Fourth, the LG personnel indicated that the styrene vapours evaporated and formed a polymer in the vapour space of the tank. This polymer builds up in the top of the tank as the vapours escapes from the top of the liquid level, condenses in the top of the tank where it polymerises, and then sometimes drops into the liquid if it becomes heavy. A tank without proper maintenance may see stalactite-like formation hanging from the top of the tank. Proper cleaning, maintenance, and safe operating guidelines as prescribed above should be a corner stone in safe styrene monomer storage and handling.

Finally, I'd like to end by using a Trevor Kletz quote: “Saying accidents occur due to human error is like saying falls occur due to gravity”.

Our first instinct is to identify “negligence” as described by the media or human error. Most accidents have occurred due to human error. However, there are design, operation, management system failures, and other factors that contribute to an accident. A multiple-cause, system-oriented incident investigation methodology is prescribed to understand the underlying cause of the incident.

An independent investigation agency like the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is necessary to understand these accidents as it will help in preventing further such accidents, and the learnings can be shared with the industry, academia, and the government to enhance the safety of the works and general public.

Figure 1 Typical Styrene Storage Configuration
Figure 1 Typical Styrene Storage Configuration

This section is FYI.

These models shown are based on assumptions and conservative estimates.

There has been enough discussion on what styrene gas can do to a healthy person in the news media. Therefore, I would like to highlight the concentration thresholds from the NOAA chemicals website.

Figure 2 ERPG Guidelines
Figure 2 ERPG Guidelines

The quantities are in ppm (parts per million). In addition to the thresholds, another property of the styrene monomer gas is that the vapour density is 3.139 kg/m3 and is denser than the vapour density of air 1.18 kg/m3. As the styrene monomer gas is three times denser than air, after the leak from the top of the tank, the gas tends to settle in low-lying areas.

The spread of the gas is determined by gravitational pull, crosswind velocity, terrain (urban vs rural), and ground concentration decreases with increasing distance from the source. However, as it is heavy, the ground concentration is expected be high close to the plant.

Therefore, the Twitter handle of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation shows a core section surrounding the LG Polymers facility (Figure 3). This is where the concentration is expected to be high and above the ERPG guidelines, requiring the evacuation of the families.

Beyond this core area, it is recommended for people to stay indoors and cover their nose/mouth with a wet cloth. The indoor concentration is drastically reduced and below a safe level when people shelter in place and do not go out of the house. A model below shows the indoor concentration 1.57 km away from the leak source where the outdoor concentration is low and the indoor concentration is close to the detectable range.

Figure 3 Core Area from GVMC Twitter Handle
Figure 3 Core Area from GVMC Twitter Handle
Figure 4 Indoor concentration outside core area
Figure 4 Indoor concentration outside core area
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