Chlorine leak at chemical factory

A cloud of toxic chlorine gas hung over several villages north of Prague at the weekend following a leak at the nearby Spolana chemical factory on Friday. 12 firemen were injured after breathing the chlorine, and they had to seek treatment in hospital. None of the local population was hurt in the incident, but it wasn't the first leak at Spolana. Zuzana Smidova is here with details of the accident.

Just before eight o'clock on Friday morning, chlorine at the chemical factory started leaking from a faulty pipe. Half an hour later sirens rang out in two villages nearby to warn locals not to step outside and keep all their windows closed. By nine o'clock that day sirens warned another three villages, a third alert was announced for the whole area surrounding the factory and the first two firemen were rushed to a hospital. The chlorine continued to leak until five in the afternoon, because as the spokesman of the Spolana chemical factory said, the leak was difficult to get to.

Chlorine, a gas which irritates the mucous membranes, stays near the ground. Luckily the wind didn't blow the yellow-blue cloud onto the town of Neratovice, with a population of six thousand inhabitants, but into the countryside. Although the concentration of chlorine measured in the affected villages was far below danger level, some newspapers reported that local villagers had difficulties breathing, and the unusually dry air could be felt even on the eastern outskirts of the capital.

But this wasn't the first gas leak at the factory, the worst dating back to 1967. A dioxine leak at that time badly affected some 50 employees of the factory, causing many serious health problems. A year later in 1968 production had to be stopped, and three buildings contaminated with the dangerous dioxine substance had to be isolated. What worries many environmental activists is the fact that only one of the three buildings have been decontaminated since then. Jiri Tuter is from the environmental organisation Greenpeace, and earlier today I asked why the Spolana plant was dangerous. I also spoke to Jaroslav Stastny from the local Ecological Emergency Centre in Melnik, who was monitoring Friday's leak He told me that any chemical factory is obviously a danger to the region, and Spolana has recently done a lot to improve the alarm system for such emergencies. The local people can do little except hope Spolana has really done enough to protect them.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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