Toxic gas cloud at Honghu factory puts 20 in hospital

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 7:23am

More than 20 people remained in hospital in Honghu, Hubei province, yesterday after an ammonia leak from a food processing plant left hundreds ill and forced more than 1,000 from their homes.

At least three of the victims were in severe condition, including a 32-year-old firefighter who was helping people escape from the toxic cloud at the Deyan Aquaculture plant on Monday night, according to state media reports.

Some 470 people were poisoned during the two-hour leak, which took the company 40 minutes to report to police, according to the Chongqing Morning Post.

The gas cloud sent residents fleeing from their homes near Hong Lake.

A witness reported seeing several people collapse as they tried to run, the Chongqing Morning Post said. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

The plant, which sits on the lake and processes mostly freshwater food products, was ordered to halt production yesterday, Xinhua said. The plant used ammonia as a refrigerating agent.

Police briefly cordoned off the area around the plant, but restrictions were lifted by yesterday. There was no indication that the lake had been polluted during the leak.

Authorities gave no information about the cause of thechemical release. The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Such chemical leaks happen often on the mainland. In July, sulphur dioxide was released from a Zhenjiang chemical plant belonging to Jiangsu SOPO, poisoning dozens. A city government report called the leak a "liability accident" caused by errors at the plant.