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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future