EMERGENCY services last night criticised flytippers who triggered a full-scale chemical scare.

Firefighters and police were occupied for four hours and a road was closed for three-and- a-half hours following the discovery of an abandoned batch of 50-gallon drums, on Teesside.

The blue containers, marked benzyl chloride, were found neatly stacked on the banks of a stream at South Bank, near Middlesbrough, yesterday.

Firefighters donned decontamination chemical suits and masks to investigate the contents of the drums, backed up by two fire tenders from Grangetown fire station, one emergency tender from Coulby Newham, an environment protection unit and a support appliance from Hartlepool.

The Environment Agency was called in and found no evidence of an escape of chemicals into the stream, but will return today to double check.

The drums were found off Middlesbrough Road East, in South Bank, the discovery prompting Cleveland Police to close Puddles Road.

Grangetown Watch Manager Paul Beeforth said the drums were found to have been placed in orderly rows.

Though three of them had been left pointing down at the water, all eight were found to be empty.

Mr Beeforth said: "This was an extremely irresponsible act by the person involved, putting members of the public, the emergency services and the environment itself, at risk.''

Sergeant Keith Kitson, of Cleveland Police, said: "The police would echo those sentiments.

It takes up a lot of resources for a long time, to deal with such an incident.''

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said that, following further checks of the stream to check for any run-offs from the empty drums, efforts would be made to track down those responsible.

Firefighters loaded the drums into containers, which were collected by a specialist disposal firm and taken from the scene