Tank spews toxic fumes after blast

Tank spews toxic fumes after blast
Mr Loh Yoke Koon, 44, a worker at Coca-Cola Singapore plant, is warded at the Intensive Care Unit at the National University Hospital after he was exposed to ammonia following a chemical leak and explosion at the plant in Tuas on 31 July 2015.
PHOTO: The New Paper

A chemical leak and explosion at the Coca-Cola Singapore plant in Tuas yesterday has landed a man in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Two workers were in a production room where a 1.6m-long gas cylinder was being filled with compressed ammonia when the tank ruptured and exploded at 8.35am.

One of the workers, Mr Loh Yoke Koon, 44, believed to be a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, was affected by the blast. He was taken to the National University Hospital (NUH), where he was placed in the ICU.

The other worker escaped unhurt.

About 80 other workers had to be evacuated from the three-storey building after the explosion.

A spokesman for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said they were alerted to the incident at 457, Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim around 8.45am and arrived within six minutes.

The gas cylinder which ruptured was in a ground floor room about half the size of a basketball court.

The force of the blast caused the false ceiling to collapse and rocketed the cylinder across the room, smashing machinery and releasing toxic ammonia fumes into the air.

Workers ran from the fumes, which can be lethal if inhaled.

Major Zhou Yansheng, the commander of Tuas Fire Station, said SCDF personnel attended to Mr Loh, while also evacuating the other staff and closing off the area.

"Our priority was the victim. When I saw him, his eyes were closed and he had a lot of mucus. He was cringing and shaking his head," he said. "Ammonia is very toxic when inhaled, and corrosive when it comes into contact with the skin.

"It reacts with moisture and becomes like an acid."

HOSED DOWN

Mr Loh had been brought out of the room where the explosion occurred and was hosed down by the plant's staff before the SCDF arrived.

Said Maj Zhou: "We got him to undress and had to decontaminate him by washing him thoroughly with water. "He complained of difficulty breathing and felt discomfort on his face and throat. Our paramedics then took over and conveyed him conscious to NUH."

But Mr Loh's condition deteriorated on the way to the hospital, leaving him with a swollen neck by the time he reached there. When TNP saw him in the ICU yesterday afternoon, he had multiple tubes inserted into his neck and face. He did not have any other visitors at that time.

According to Mr Loh's Facebook page, he started working with Coca-Cola in 2001 and started working at the Tuas plant in 2011.

Captain Ang Xin Yi, a rota commander at Tuas Fire Station, who was one of the first responding crew, said she could smell the fumes when she got close to the room.

"My eyes teared and we immediately put on our personal protective equipment and evacuated workers on the other floors.

We cordoned off the area and started to mitigate the situation," she said.

A total of 25 SCDF personnel were deployed, and they were able to contain the incident within an hour.

The company's emergency response team had also isolated the source of the leak by shutting off connecting valves to the ruptured cylinder before SCDF arrived.

But the clean-up lasted till the afternoon, with SCDF operations at the plant ending only at 3pm yesterday.

SCDF's Hazardous Materials Specialists had to flush the residual ammonia gas from the ruptured cylinder with a water jet, and deploy fan blowers to ventilate the room.

Responding to queries, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Singapore Beverages said yesterday: "We can confirm that at 8.35am this morning there was a minor ammonia leak at our Tuas manufacturing plant.

"The leak was isolated to a preparation room and finished goods were not impacted by the incident...

"One person experienced breathing difficultly as a result of the incident and is currently undergoing assessment in hospital. ...all personnel have since returned to the plant to resume normal operations."

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it was notified of the incident.

"The leaked ammonia was contained within the factory and was handled by Coca-Cola Singapore Beverages according to its internal emergency response procedures," he said.

"NEA conducted measurements of the ammonia level at the surrounding areas and no ammonia was detected."

davidsun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 1, 2015.
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