Toxic leak generates major alert

TOXIC fumes spilled out of a chemical plant and brought North Shields to a two-hour standstill on Wednesday.

Roads were blocked as many struggled to work following a major leak at Distillex in East Percy Street. Emergency services battled for most of the morning to bring the incident under control.

Firefighters and police were called to the scene at 6.40am after a tank containing 200 litres of chemicals overheated at the plant during the night. Police immediately cordoned off all roads within a mile of the area.

Members of the public and the plant itself alerted fire crews to the scene and appliances were brought in from as far as Hebburn and West Denton to strengthen a 50-strong firefighting team.

Officer in charge Ian Robertson said: "The residue in the bottom of the tank heated up and released a vapour into the atmosphere. We brought the leak under control quickly by cooling down the tank with copious amounts of water.

"We have a contingency plan for this type of accident and this was a model incident. There are no longer any dangers from the fumes as they disperse 100 per cent into the air once released."

Children were sent home from school, Metro services were disrupted as Tynemouth station closed and residents living in the area had to suffer a "strong pungent odour" from the fumes.

Tynemouth Area Commander Supt Keith Felton said: "We contacted as many businesses and schools as possible and urged people to stay inside with their doors and windows locked."

The incident was not treated as suspicious and investigations are being carried out by Distillex and the fire investigation officer.

No one was injured but those who fear they may have breathed in fumes are advised to seek medical advice.

RESIDENTS TOLD TO LOCK WINDOWS AND DOORS

PANIC-stricken residents are recovering after toxic fumes poured out of a chemical plant on Wednesday.

People living within a mile of East Percy Street, North Shields, were ordered to lock doors and windows and stay indoors after vapours were released when a chemical tank overheated at Distillex.

Police took to the streets with megaphones early yesterday morning (Wednesday) to alert residents in the area to the leak, which brought the town to a two-hour standstill as roads and streets were blocked.

Ruth Holliday, 23, of Linskill Place, said: "Police started patrolling the streets at 7.30am telling people to stay indoors. At first I had no idea what was going on then my family were on the phone, very concerned after hearing the news.

"Everyone I spoke to said they had no idea there was a chemical plant near our homes, and at first we had assumed any chemical spill must have come from either a tanker or a ship coming into the quays."

Heather Smith, 23, of Washington Terrace, said: "People were still leaving for work and walking around as if nothing had happened until the police started coming around. It was quite frightening."

Pupils were sent home from five schools in the area, including Priory, Spring Gardens and King Edward primary schools.

King Edward headteacher Nina Brown said: "For the safety of our children we closed the building and sent them home on the advice of the emergency services. Hopefully we should reopen today."

Tynemouth MP Alan Campbell praised the fire crews and police who brought the leak under control within two hours.

He said: "It was clear they had acted swiftly to bring the situation under control and responded exceptionally well in what could have been a much more serious incident."