ICI closes plant after gas leak

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The Independent Online
ICI was ordered to close down part of one of its chemical plants by the Government's Environment Agency after a large and dangerous leak of toxic gas.

The incident comes only two weeks after senior ICI managers were called in to meet top agency officials following serious pollution incidents at plants in the north-east and north-west. It is the first time ICI has been forced to shut down part of a plant since government regulators obtained this power in 1994.

The leak of titanium tetrachloride from the ICI-owned Tioxide plant, at Greetham near Hartlepool, produced a large cloud of hydrogen chloride mist, which is extremely acidic.

A road alongside the plant was closed and local people were warned by police to stay inside. There were no injuries.

Five hours later, in the small hours of yesterday, the company informed the Agency there had been an oil spill from a sister plant at Wilton, where petroleum products are refined from oil.

The Agency's operations director, Archie Robertson, said: ''It is outrageous that within weeks of ICI being called to a meeting ... where it promised to clean up its act, that its plants have been involved in two further leaks.''

The company promised at that meeting to call in independent experts to investigate its management procedures.

"We will not allow it to restart until we are completely satisfied that the company will operate it safely,'' said Mr Robertson.

The plant makes the white powder pigment used in paints, plastics and paper. The leak came from a pipe in a heat exchanger, which uses water to cool a chemical pumped through it. ICI is legally obliged to carry out remedial work, review its maintenance and inspection procedures and recommend improvements.

The other, less serious, leak on the Wilton site happened after a plant was restarted following routine maintenance. An unknown quantity of light oil spilled into the drains and then flowed into an inlet on the Tees estuary. Most of it was stopped by a boom and then lifted off the water surface and mud using special absorbent materials.

ICI said it regretted the two latest incidents.