HOSPITAL staff were on high alert yesterday (FRI) following what turned out to be a "minor explosion" at a North-East chemical plant.

Darlington Memorial Hospital’s accident and emergency department (A&E) was in quarantine after two workers from Ineos, in Newton Aycliffe, were admitted.

One of the workers had collapsed on site and both of them were taken by ambulance to the hospital where there were concerns over exposure to hazardous chemicals. A decision to close A&E was taken as a precaution following and it later transpired the men had been exposed to relatively harmless chemicals.

Loading article content

A spokesman for Ineos, operators of the former Hydro Polymers site in Newton Aycliffe, confirmed there had been an incident at 6.30am yesterday morning.

He said: "The incident was on the PVC compounding plant whereby on starting up a process, two employees came into contact with PVC compound.

"As a precaution, both individuals were taken to the local hospital for examination and are awaiting treatment for eye irritation.

"PVC compounds are generally non hazardous, and at no point during the incident was there any threat to local people or the environment.

"An investigation into the incident is now underway."

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said it had advised the emergency services to take the precautions following an explosion at the School Aycliffe Way plant.

Gillian Parsons, spokeswoman for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Because there was the suspicion that the casualties had been exposed to hazardous chemicals we took the decision to isolate A&E.

"This meant that during the period of temporary closure the A&E department did not admit new patients and ambulances were diverted to either minor injuries units or to other hospital A&E departments."

The precautions were soon lifted at about 10am and the hospital has returned to its standard operating procedures. The workers are not thought to be seriously hurt.