Toxic fumes put four in hospital

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2011, 12:00am


Toxic fumes created by the mixing of two cleaning solutions sent four cleaners to hospital yesterday, one in critical condition.

The four were working in Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, at about 10am. One, a 57-year-old woman, mixed sodium hydroxide with an unidentified solvent. Several loud bangs were heard by witnesses. All four cleaners complained of breathing problems shortly afterwards.

The 57-year-old woman eventually passed out and had to be carried to an ambulance. The other three, aged 48 to 51, were in stable condition last night.

A female passer-by said she heard several explosions and saw the woman collapse. 'Her face turned red after having her face cleaned with towels and tissue paper. She then felt dizzy,' the passer-by said.

A worker from a nearby restaurant said: 'I heard a loud bang and also felt it. The floor shook under my feet.'

The four cleaners had their heads and faces washed with water before firemen and paramedics arrived.

'When we arrived, the four workers were conscious with no apparent injuries. There was no sign of fire and we detected no gas at the scene,' senior Wan Chai fire station officer Choy Ming-kin said. 'The female worker complained of difficulty in breathing and later passed out before being carried into an ambulance.'

All four were taken to Ruttonjee Hospital.

Police cordoned off the area and government chemists collected samples for examination.

An associate professor at City University's department of biology and chemistry, Cheung Hon-yeung, said the cleaning solution might have contained bleach. If mixed with sodium hydroxide, it would produce concentrated chlorine, which is toxic and corrosive, he said.

'Chlorine can be a toxic and corrosive gas,' he said. 'The gas will cause irritation to our noses, eyes and respiratory system. People who breathe in the gas could suffer serious damage to their lungs and it could even prove fatal if the fumes react with body tissues to produce fluid or cause oedema in the lungs.'

The four cleaners work for Li Hing Cleaning Services, a contractor for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

The Labour Department and government chemists are investigating.