China Environmental News Digest

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

44 poisoned, 5 dead in highway crash

Source: China Daily UPDATED: 12:48, May 20, 2006

Forty-four rescue workers were rushed to hospital after being poisoned by fumes from a chemical tanker punctured in a pile-up on a highway in Central China's Hubei Province on Thursday.

Four drivers were also killed in the eight-vehicle crash and another rescue worker was crushed to death as emergency vehicles hurried to the scene shortly after 4 am.

Firefighter Chen Ping, 20, of the Zhijiang Fire Brigade, died when a bus rushing to the scene collided with an ambulance, which then hit him from behind.

And local farmer Fang Yong from nearby Jinshan village was also reported to have had his right foot burnt by the chemicals as they washed down on to his land, according to the Wuhan Evening News.

By Friday night, 41 of the rescue workers a mix of policemen, firefighters and villagers were out of danger, following rapid treatment at a nearby hospital. Meanwhile the three more seriously injured were described as stable.

The severe accident is thought to have been caused by heavy fog, which shrouded the Hankou to Yichang highway in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The tanker, believed to contain 20 tons of dimethyl sulphate, began to leak shortly after it was hit from behind by another truck. The 44 rescue workers began to feel pain in their throats and eyes, while some rescuer's skin started flare-up, as they helped clear the chemicals.

Doctors said dimethyl sulfate fumes are irritative and can be inhaled or absorbed by skin, causing burnt eyes, skin and damage to the respiratory system.

He Qing, another firefighter with the Zhijiang Fire Brigade, who stayed in the office while colleagues answered the call, said all 14 firefighters who went to the scene were now in hospital.

Local environment protection workers later dealt with the pollution on the road and nearby farmland with the hope of minimizing the polluted area.

Normal traffic flow on the highway did not resume until 14 hours after the crash at 6 pm on Thursday, when the leaked chemicals were finally cleared from the road and the damaged vehicles dragged away.

This is the second serious traffic accident on the highway this year. On March 25, a crash in which a bus collided with a truck killed 12 and injured another 41 people.

Luo Qingquan, governor of Hubei Province, ordered transportation departments to "learn a lesson from the accident."

"We should strengthen our supervision for the foggy sections of our highways," he said.


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