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Germany

Huge cloud of acid from chemical plant drifts over German town

An accident at a German chemical plant spewed dangerous clouds of acid into the air in the industrial Ruhr district. The incident happened when hydrochloric acid was incorrectly loaded into a sulfuric acid tank.

A large cloud of sulfuric and hydrochloric acid belched out of a German chemical plant on Thursday morning, forcing local residents inside.

The cloud of acid drifted out of a corrosive chemical facility near Oberhausen, in the industrial Ruhr district in western Germany. 

About 150 people sought medical attention with respiratory complaints. "These are the first symptoms to be observed," local daily Der Westen quoted Jörg Prussen from the fire brigade as saying.

The accident happened when hydrochloric acid was accidently loaded into a sulfuric acid tank, a spokesman for Hamm Chemie said on Thursday.

The cloud spilled from a 600 cubic meter tank at the Hamm-Chemie facility. Residents living within 400 meters (437 yards) were advised to stay indoors. Hamm-Chemie supplies sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda to customers throughout Europe and has tank capacities of more than 14,000 tonnes, according to its website.

Chemical plants in Oberhausen (picture-alliance/dpa/ANC News)

The 600 cubic meter tank was in a a chemical plant in Oberhausen

Traffic on a major highway, train services and shipping traffic on the Rhine-Herne canal were all severely affected.

A spokesman for the fire brigade told news agency dpa that the acid was being disposed of in a controlled fashion. Local media reported this consisted of hosing the cloud down and pumping the acid out of the defective container.

"There is a possibility that harmful fumes were released and will move to a nearby commercial area," dpa quoted a police spokesman as saying, adding that traffic in the surrounding area was being redirected and an unspecified number of residents had been evacuated.

aw/rt (dpa)