Mark Branagan, Yorkshire Post, October 30, 2006
Shipping entering the Humber was put on chemical alert early yesterday for the first time in a number of years after a leak from a factory created a gas cloud over the river.
An operation involving Humber Coastguard, police and the fire service swung into action in the early hours when a quarter of a tonne of titanium tetrachloride – a known irritant – escaped from a pipeline at Stallingborough, which makes white pigment for the paint industry. As a plume formed over the mouth of the Humber, the coastguard scrambled a helicopter from RAF Leconfield to search the river as a precaution. But it was realised that because the gas is lighter than air, it was rising and breaking up.
Everything was back to normal by 5am, but a Humber Coastguard spokesman said such incidents were rare and this was the first alert of its kind in five or six years.
Boats were not turned away from the Humber but their masters were advised to keep all non-essential crew below decks during the passage down the river.
Those who had to work in the open air were warned to cover their faces with a handkerchief if they experienced coughing or any other discomfort. But no incidents of ilness were reported.
A spokesman continued: “There were a couple of vessels possibly delayed but due to the state of the tide there was not much movement in the river at that hour.”
Such incidents required a co-ordinated response because potentially they could have “dire consequences”. But in this case the concentration of the gas, even if it had come into contact with anyone, would have caused nothing more than some mild respiratory irritation, the spokesman added.
The fire service said the incident at Stallingborough involved a leak of a quarter of a tonne of titanium tetrachloride from a pipeline. The leak was isolated at valve and foam blanket laid to cover spillage by works personnel.
Titanium tetrachloride is known to be very irritating to the eyes, skin, mucous membranes, and the lungs.