Chemical plant explodes

An industrial site which makes nitrogen and ammonia-based products was shaken by a dramatic explosion in the early hours of Thursday morning and regulators are now looking at the cause - and likely environmental impact - of the blast.

The accident took place shortly after midnight at the Terra Nitrogen plant in Haverton Hill Road, Billignham, Teeside when, according to the company, gases from a leaking pipe ignited.

A spokesman for the company told edie a full internal investigation would take place to look at how the incident had occurred.

The release of mixed gases including nitrogen, hydrogen and ammonia led to a fire which was extinguished automatically as the pipe depressurised, she said.

Timeline Thursday, June 1

0012: Emergency services receive reports of the blast at Billingham. Ten fire engines as well as police and ambulance vehicles are dispatched and Major Incident procedures are launched.

0130: Police advise the public in the area to keep windows closed against the smoke as a precaution.

0205: After two hours battling the blaze the fire brigade has the situation under control. Operations are scaled down and four of the ten fire engines return to their stations. No longer considered a Major Incident.

0300: Police report that the fire is out and re-open all roads closed following the incident. Emergency services step down and HSE/EA investigation begins.

In line with the plant’s emergency procedures, the county police and fire brigade attended the scene working in partnership with the on-site emergency services. The plant was safely shut down.

The company recognises that the incident caused concern locally, but does not believe the event presented any danger to the public or would give rise to any public health issues.

Ashraf Malik, UK manufacturing director of Terra Nitrogen said: “We would like to apologise to anyone who has been inconvenienced by the need for the precautionary actions and would thank people for their patience and understanding during the incident.

“The company would also thank our employees and the emergency services for their efforts.”

Supt Ian Richards of Cleveland police told edie the constabulary did not believe there were any off-site implications from the blast and the investigation had now been handed over to the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

“Emergency services called to the scene had the situation under control in a relatively short time,” he said.

“Fortunately what was initially perceived as a major incident was quickly dealt with. The emergency services and petro-chemical industry on Teeside regularly exercise to ensure such incidents can be dealt with effectively.

“Their expertise and training to deal with such situations and protect the public are recognised nationally.”

Police confirmed that two workers at the complex were treated for shock and minor injuries at the scene. They did not require hospital treatment.

Terra Nitrogen is the UK’s largest manufacturer of ammonia, nitric acid and carbon dioxide and its Billingham operations are headed up by chemicals and utilities director David Hopkins.

The environmental implications of the chemical fire will be covered in the EA’s report at the conclusion of the pollution watchdog’s investigation.

Sam Bond

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