Chemical spill puts workers in hospital

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2007, 12:00am

Six men were sent to hospital after inhaling pungent fumes from an industrial chemical that spilled from a container vessel and contaminated water at the Kwai Chung port yesterday.

The chemical, methyl methacrylate, used to make paint, leaked from one of six tanks on the ship and 20 tonnes had spilled onto the ship and into the water. A reddish layer of chemical was seen in nearby waters.

Residents living 1km from the port also were forced from their homes. Efforts to clean up the spill were still under way last night after 80 firemen were called to the scene and used water jets to disperse it.

The Fire Services Department sent two vessels and 12 fire engines to container terminal 1 at Kwai Chung after receiving a report from a ship's crew member at 5.06pm. Two ambulances also attended.

The ship, Orient Overseas container Line Kee Lung, evacuated 23 crew members. Two crew members and four pier workers fell sick after inhaling the fumes. The injured were sent to Princess Margaret Hospital for treatment. Last night, one was in stable condition and the rest were under observation.

Residents from Cheung Ching Estate on Tsing Yi, 1.3km from the terminal, made calls for help after the air filled with an irritating smell. They said a foul odour was detected at least twice, each lasting about 20 minutes. 'The smell hurt my nose, it smelled like gas,' a boy at the public housing estate told Cable TV.

A woman, who was driven from her flat, said: 'When the breeze brought it here, I had difficulty breathing ... it lasted for about half an hour, I went home and it was still there so I came down here [in the street].'

Methyl methacrylate - classified as category 5 in dangerous goods ratings - is used in water-based coatings, such as latex house paint, and in LCD computer and TV screens.

Michael Lam Hon-wah, associate professor at City University's chemistry department, said it was a highly toxic chemical with a pungent odour that could irritate the eyes and skin. Severe inhalation could affect the central nervous system causing dizziness, headache, breathing difficulties and death. He said sickness could be alleviated by breathing in fresh air.




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