Prague plant leaks killer chlorine
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Killer chlorine gas has leaked from a chemicals plant north of Prague for the second time since flooding hit the area.
Managers at the Spolana plant have been removed from their posts and a police investigation has been launched as it emerged a "mini-Chernobyl" is potentially in the making after safety measures were allegedly not followed.
Officials are concerned that the flooded chemicals plant, which is on the River Elbe, holds large amounts of lethal chemicals including chlorine gas which was used in high concentrations to kill on the battlefields of World War I.
Jan Papez, head of a committee investigating flood damage across the country, was quoted on the Web site of the daily Pravo on Sunday as saying the situation at the plant "threatened a large number of lives."
He added it was comparable "to a mini Chernobyl," referring to the damage caused by the 1986 Ukrainian nuclear power plant disaster.
Raging rivers flooded large swathes of land in and around Prague during the past two weeks as well other parts of central and eastern Europe.
The Spolana plant, which is in Neratovice about 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Prague, failed to escape the record floods and suffered its first leak last week. The second leak came later in the week on Friday.
Several hundred kilogrammes of highly poisonous chlorine gas were released into the air but not reported to authorities as agreed, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross was quoted by Reuters as telling Czech state radio on Sunday.
"Our agreement was such that no one would take action in the event of a leak without the assistance of our people," Gross said.
"But no one from our office knew about it (the leak)."
Fortunately, no human casualties have been reported as a result of the leak but trees and surrounding scrubland were scorched, local media reported.
Management from state-held Unipetrol, Spolana's parent company, will run operations. "We want to find out exactly what happened. Spolana's management no longer has our trust," Gross said.
Unipetrol officials have admitted there were certain delays in information but said there was no threat to the public.
The first leak a week ago was originally reported at about 14 kilos (30.8 pounds), and prompted the Czech and German environment ministers to tour the area to calm fears that chemicals were leaking into the water and flowing north into southeastern Germany.
After the tour both said the situation appeared to be under control.
But on Saturday plant officials admitted the leak had been much more serious than originally reported, and involved 300-400 kilos (660-880 pounds) of chlorine.
A further 200- 400 kilos were released in the second leak on Friday while a third leak, this time liquid chlorine of about 80 tonnes, was emitted into the water, the CTK news agency reported.
The liquid chlorine dispersed, posing less of a risk than it does in the air.
It is also feared that toxics that have seeped into the buildings may be released.
Safety checks are being made of the water and air around the plant every 30 minutes.
Floods spark chemical spill fear
August 17, 2002
Huge cost of Czech floods
August 16, 2002
'Floods took away my livelihood'
August 14, 2002
Prague faces 'worst moment'
August 14, 2002
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