Jam factory staff in chemical leak drama

GALLERY Twelve people were taken to hospital after a toxic alert at the factory of world-famous jam-maker.

James Hore

TWELVE people were taken to hospital after a toxic alert at the factory of world-famous jam-maker.

More than 160 employees were evacuated from Wilkin & Sons' factory in Tiptree yesterday following a chemical spillage.

The alarm was raised at the Brook Road premises after two chemicals used for cleaning fluids were mixed together, creating a chlorine gas.

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Some employees suffered breathing problems caused by fumes, and were taken to hospital to be checked over.

An ambulance spokesman said that 48 people had been treated at the scene but that nobody had been seriously injured in the incident, which happened at around 2.40pm.

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Mark Earwicker, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) incident commander said: “Approximately 40 people have been affected by the accidental chemical spill which involved sodium hypochlorite and hydrochloric acid which had been mixed together, creating a chlorine gas.

“Trained staff at the factory immediately neutralised the chemical spillage. It was a very small quantity of chemicals that mixed.”

The evacuation had taken place before the emergency services arrived at the scene.

He added that firefighters sent into inside wearing gas-tight chemical protection suits “found it to be safe and have ventilated the building.”

Assistant Divisional Officer Earwicker added: “Once firefighters had left the building, as a matter of procedure, they entered the ECFRS decontamination unit shower in their gas-tight suits to clean off. Chlorine can be particularly nasty and can be fatal in certain doses.

“The incident was dealt with by 4.15pm. The building has now been handed back to the manager of the jam factory.”

Employee Louise Reese, a machine operator at the factory, said: “The fire alarm went off and we thought it was just a drill and came outside.

“We were all standing in the courtyard for about an hour before we knew what was going on.

“They sent all of us home early. One of the girls in the filling room suffers from asthma, so I suppose you have to be very careful about things like that.”

The East of England Ambulance Service's general manager for north Essex, Alan Whitehead, said: “The incident was closed within three hours of the initial call to the ambulance service, and thankfully the majority of people did not need hospital treatment. Forty-eight people were on site and were assessed.

“Of these, 12 were taken to Colchester General Hospital mainly suffering from breathing complications associated with inhaling chemical fumes, believed to be chlorine gas.”

He added that the North East Essex Primary Care Trust, the Health Protection Unit, the Health Protection Agency, and NHS Direct had been informed in case people in the area needed medical advice or support later yesterday or today.

Last night Chris Newenham, director of Wilkin & Sons Ltd, confirmed several members of staff were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure following an incident with a contractor's cleaning fluids.

“All staff were collected from hospital by the company at 6pm and are recuperating at home,” he said. “We are grateful for the speedy response of the emergency services who confirmed that the staff had followed the correct procedures when dealing with incident.

“After inspection by the fire and rescue service the building was handed back to the company and will be open for business as usual in the morning”.

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