Seven taken to hospital in chemical drama

SEVEN people were taken to hospital after deadly chemicals leaked from a lorry onto the A120 close to Harwich International Port.

Roddy Ashworth

SEVEN people were taken to hospital after deadly chemicals leaked from a lorry onto the A120 close to Harwich International Port.

The highly corrosive nitric acid - which causes severe burns when in contact with skin - was spotted spilling from barrels on the back of the vehicle at around 8.30am this morning.

Two areas were cordoned off by police - one between Ramsey and Parkeston and the other on Dock Road - and the A120 was closed for more than eight hours while specialists cleaned up the area.

Local residents and businesses were told to keep their windows shut and pedestrians were told to keep away from the port due to the possibility of inhaling the noxious fumes.

Ambulance crews worked closely with the other emergency services and have received specialist tactical advice from Stuart Berlyn, the ambulance service's emergency and contingency planning manager.

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Fire crews wore chemical protection suits to deal with the initial spill and put a sand barrier around the chemical to stop it spreading.

Nitric acid is a powerful oxidising agent and can cause explosions when in contact with some organic materials. It can cause serious damage if its fumes are inhaled.

Reporting at the scene of the spillage at around 10.30am, Divisional Officer Andy Butcher, incident commander, said: “The lorry contains approximately 100 litres of nitric acid stored in drums.

“The chemical had been leaking from the lorry's container onto the road way.

“The area affected has been cordoned off and fire crews are dealing with the spillage.”

A spokeswoman for the east of England Ambulance Service said: “The East of England Ambulance Service assessed and treated a total of nine patients who had inhaled small amounts of gas wafting from the nitric acid which had spilled there.

“Seven patients were conveyed to Colchester General Hospital by ambulance.

“Although none suffered any serious ill effects, they were taken for precautionary check-ups.

“Two further patients were assessed and treated by crews at Harwich ambulance station but didn't need to go to hospital.

“All ambulance personnel who attended were advised en route that they should park upwind of the spillage and at a safe distance to ensure their own health and safety.

“Crews and ambulance officers worked closely with the other agencies at the scene to ensure everyone stayed as safe as possible.”

Efforts to clear the A120 were hampered when a recovery truck broke down on its way to pick up the lorry.

The chemical had been cleaned off the carriageway this evening, but the road was not expected to be re-opened until the early hours of the morning while another recovery vehicle was found.