Two die in blast at chemical works: Risk of poisonous fumes forces families to stay indoors as plume of smoke rises 300 feet

TWO people died and 15 others were seriously injured yesterday when an explosion ripped through a chemical works in the centre of Castleford, West Yorkshire, sending flames and a plume of smoke 300ft (91m) into the air.

Schoolchildren playing near the scene were rushed indoors and people living nearby were told to secure all windows and not leave their homes until told they could do so. At least one of the seriously injured had to be airlifted to the regional burns unit 10 miles away.

The explosion happened at the chemical plant operated by Hickson and Welsh, which supplies chemicals to the pharmaceutical industry. During a routine maintenance operation a toxic substance, nitrotolulene, which is highly flammable, was being moved in a tank. Nitrotoluene is used to make dyes, pharmaceuticals and fertilisers. The blast happened at lunchtime when most of the company's employees were not in the plant. The fireball ripped through a car park and destroyed a prefabricated building.

Dr James Fyfe, the managing director of the factory, said that a full inquiry would be held into the incident but as yet there was no explanation for what had happened. He said: 'At this stage we have no idea what went wrong. It was a routine maintenance operation that has been carried out countless times in the past.'

Witnesses said that they heard a roaring sound shortly before 1.15pm and then saw a huge fireball engulf a building within the vast plant. The plant is almost in the centre of Castleford and next to the town's rugby league club, local schools, shops and homes.

One witness, Sheila Malanszak, whose house overlooks the plant, said she heard a deafening explosion and thought there had been an aircraft crash. 'There was a huge bang. I raced outside and saw debris being hurled into the fields near the plant. The whole plant was just covered in a massive pall of smoke and flames. The smell was horrible. It just made you feel sick and it was difficult to breath.'

Jim Manuel, the chief fire officer for West Yorkshire, said that the fierce blaze which followed the explosion had destroyed several cars in a nearby car park. He said: 'The initial explosion was very, very severe. The explosion created a fireball which travelled 150 yards across the roadway and into a four-storey block. It also destroyed a prefabricated building at the plant.'

It is the second chemical blast in West Yorkshire in two months. In July a chemical fire broke out at the Allied Colloids factory in Bradford. In that incident smoke drifted for more than 20 miles from the plant although there were no serious injuries.

Yesterday's explosion was far more serious and again raised questions about the safety of such plants, which are situated near people's homes. Hicksons and Welsh is said locally to be extremely safety conscious and is well thought of in Castleford. It sponsors the rugby league team and is a significant employer. Nevertheless, people are well aware that there is a potential risk with the plant being located so close to homes.

The incident brought into play a full emergency plan with 17 fire engines and more than 100 firefighters being used to fight the blaze. Fire crews had to wear full protective gear, with breathing apparatus, to search for people missing and to deal with the injured. The survivors, said to be suffering from burns and blast injuries, were taken to Pontefract General Infirmary and the regional burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

Some three hours after the blast West Yorkshire police gave the all clear to people living in the area. Inspector Neville Oughtibridge said that people had been told to stay indoors initially as a precaution but it was not thought that the smoke contained noxious fumes.

The last serious incident at the plant was in the 1930s. The firm, - which with 800 workers is the largest employer in the town - has been operating in Castleford, on the banks of the River Calder, since 1915. The Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations of 1984 are aimed at preventing chemical industrial accidents and to limit the consequences to people living nearby.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine