Four Injured in Toxic Chemical Release on River Humber

HUMBER, England, UK, March 5, 2010 (ENS) – An uncontrolled release of the toxic chemical titanium tetrachloride (TiCL4) from a chemical factory on the River Humber has sent four people to hospital and shut down both maritime and air traffic in the Humber Estuary, northeastern England.

At 0056 this morning the Humber Coastguard took an emergency call from the chemical manufacturer Cristal Global reporting the toxic release.

The titanium tetrachloride formed a toxic cloud, which drifted across the River Humber. Based at Stallingborough on the south bank of the River Humber, Cristal Global is a top tier Control of Major Accidents and Hazards site.

The Cristal Global chemical plant on the south bank of the River Humber (Photo by David.Grimsby.UK)

Mike Puplett, Humber Coastguard Watch Manager said, “This has been a serious incident, which has involved many agencies working together. The incident is still ongoing, and there is still a danger from the toxic fumes in the locality.”

In agreement with Vessel Traffic Services at Humber, all shipping has been halted on the Humber Estuary, but one vessel, the MV Baltic Bright had already sailed through the toxic cloud and informed Vessel Traffic Services.

The initial call from the watch keeper at the Cristal Global site confirmed that the chemical release had caused four casualties, and that they had suffered chemical burns and toxic inhalation.

Breathing in large amounts of titanium tetrachloride can injure the lungs seriously enough to cause death. The chemical is very irritating to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes.

Humber Coastguard immediately scrambled the RAF Rescue helicopter 125 from Wattisham, and alerted Cleethorpes Coastguard Rescue Team to attend the site.

The four injured people have been taken to hospital, and one person has since been transferred to Pinderfield Hospital, the burns specialist hospital.

The crew of the MV Baltic Bright, which is now berthed in Immingham, have all been medically checked by paramedics.

A temporary danger area has been established in agreement with the Royal Air Force, and a Temporary Restriction of Flying Regulations is being enforced.

“We are hoping that normal service on the River Humber can be restored as soon as possible,” said Puplett. “We are also conscious of increased traffic on the river as the day progresses including some ferries which may be delayed.”

Titanium tetrachloride enters the environment primarily in the air from factories that make or use it in various chemical processes, or as a result of spills.

In the presence of water or moisture in the air, titanium tetrachloride reacts rapidly with it to form hydrochloric acid and other titanium compounds, such as titanium hydroxide and titanium oxychlorides.

Some of the titanium compounds may settle out to soil or water. In water, they sink into the bottom sediments where they may remain for a long time in the soil or sediments.

Titanium tetrachloride is used in the manufacture of titanium dioxide, a white powder pigment valued for its brightness. It provides good opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, paper, inks, fibers, food and cosmetics.

Cristal Global is the world’s second-largest producer of titanium dioxide and a leading producer of titanium chemicals. Cristal Global operates eight manufacturing plants in six countries on five continents and employs nearly 4,000 people worldwide.

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