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Roger Mottram, European Vinyls Corporation
"There are no casualties"
 real 28k

The BBC's Rebecca Marston
"Fire crews used water sprays to disperse the gas"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 12:23 GMT
Toxic gas leak sparks alert
A gas scare covered Runcorn for three hours
Families living near a chemical works were told to stay indoors for three hours after a leak of toxic gas.

Emergency services were put on full alert when about 18 tonnes of hydrogen chloride spilled from a storage container at a European Vinyls Corporation (EVC) plant in Runcorn, Cheshire.

Police issued warnings to drivers as traffic in the area became gridlocked.

Runcorn map
Traffic became gridlocked in the area
Firefighters were called to the chemical works at about 0710 GMT after reports of an explosion and a leak.

Five fire pumps, seven more crews and a specialist unit were sent to the scene.

Cheshire Fire Service spokesman John Redmond said hydrogen chloride could be very dangerous and could kill people who received it in very high concentrations.

But he stressed that this leak was not believed to be a danger to the local population.

Nearby residents were also advised to keep doors and windows closed for three hours.

Staff return

Mr Redmond said the leak had come from an 18-tonne vessel and crews used a curtain of water jets to minimise the amount of gas spreading.

They also worked to neutralise the effects of the escaped gas.

Staff at the plant were allowed to return to the site after police declared the area safe.

Police later said the chemicals that had been released would dissipate naturally and posed no threat to residents. After three hours, neighbours were allowed to open their windows again.

There were no reports of casualties but ambulance crews were called to the works and a number of local people contacted the local hospital looking for advice.

Roads chaos

Meanwhile, Cheshire Police advised motorists to avoid the Runcorn area unless absolutely necessary.

Traffic on the M56 was almost completely gridlocked and the main Runcorn Expressway was closed from the motorway slip road at junction 12.

Cheshire Police spokesman Ivor Lewis said the leak had been temporarily sealed, about an hour after the leak, to prevent further gas escapes.

Mr Lewis could not confirm whether the leak had been caused by an explosion but said that some residents living nearby had reported a "whooshing or popping noise".

EVC, which is listed in Amsterdam as Europe's biggest product of PVC, apologised for any inconvience caused.

A police spokesman said earlier the alarm had been raised by ICI, which owns a neighbouring plant.

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