I was actually inspired to ask this question in certain circumstances. In the outskirts of my city, there happened to be a styrene gas leak early morning today which killed thirteen and hospitalized many people.

Since styrene is an aromatic compound, it is suspected to be carcinogenic in nature but I think it is inert towards other atmospheric gases as well as many compounds in non-laboratory conditions. The temperature here is 31 °C, so it can stay for a large time unaffected at the same area without much spreading. I think so because it has a high molecular weight(104 g/mol).

My question is: "is there a way to treat this styrene in the atmosphere without causing much more toxicity in that area?" (For information regarding its toxicity, refer to this safety data sheet). Of course, I understand that styrene is broken down within 1-2 days in the atmosphere naturally but is there any other way to do it quicker?

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    $\begingroup$ Regional government, those who are responsible for safekeeping people's life must do the needful. How will you be able to help? Not sure if it's a medical advice question, I hope others will answer.. $\endgroup$
    – Zenix
    May 7 '20 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Zenix I just want to know how to treat such compounds in such circumstances $\endgroup$
    – user93057
    May 7 '20 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Please make the initials capital, 'i' as I, put proper space before opening bracket, and if you can't, accept others edit proposals. Removing newspaper article won't change the question motive much. $\endgroup$
    – Zenix
    May 7 '20 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Good for you for trying to ameliorate a problem, whether theoretically, or to suggest remedies for individuals or the area as a whole. $\endgroup$ May 7 '20 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesGaidis thank you for your encouraging comment. I 'd just like to know, how to treat styrene in the atmosphere. $\endgroup$
    – user93057
    May 7 '20 at 14:18

Spraying another compound to neutralize styrene (which is difficult) or whatever it was is probably not helpful, as it takes too long to spread and other potentially harmful materials are introduced, as one would need to apply the substance in excess.

Having readily installed outlets for water curtains at the plant might be helpful. The quickest emergency measure would have been if every household in the area was equipped with sufficient amounts of respirators and suitable absorbers ("filters") and training the people how to use them correctly (and teaching them that the absorbers have a limited capacity) might give enough time to escape. This would be a good and rather cheap provision for the future. Otherwise ventilation to dilute the materials is the only thing one can do, I'm afraid.

  • $\begingroup$ Good idea, but provided that the solubility of styrene is low in water (just 0.03%) how do you think it is useful to a significant extent? Of course, spraying water was what is being done, but i don't understand how it is useful. Is there any other way which employs lesser water as it's summer and water crises may arise. $\endgroup$
    – user93057
    May 7 '20 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Spraying water was just a suggestion to aid in the precipitation of the substances that have been released. Wondering if it was only styrene, as most of it should have been escaped as liquid, because of its high boiling point (nevertheless, it smells awful). In any case, spraying water should reduce the explosion hazard that is going along with the liberation of large amounts of combustible chemicals. Water crisis or not, anything that helps in saving the health of the people who are living around the plant should be considered beneficial. It would be done for a short time only. $\endgroup$ May 7 '20 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Could you tell what sorts of reagents are useful to counter styrene gas. Styrene was heated in the plant for polymerisation, yet even other compounds are suspected to have leaked as just styrene alone cannot spread in a radius of nearly 5 km $\endgroup$
    – user93057
    May 8 '20 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if UV light could be used to activate the styrene and cause it to oxidize faster. UV is being used to clean subway trains in NY city (coronavirus). Could the water sprays be laced with H2O2 (just a little) to give some radical attack? $\endgroup$ May 8 '20 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ That is a clever idea. I would hypothesize that the concentration of the styrene gas would be too low to induce polymerization; however, the presence of the aqueous peroxide may convert the styrene to the 1-phenylethanol. $\endgroup$
    – Eli Jones
    May 13 '20 at 18:07

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