An explosion at an ammonia plant has left two people injured in Teesside, UK

An explosion at an ammonia plant has left two people injured in Teesside, UK.

The explosion happened overnight at Terra Nitrogen, on a former ICI site in Billingham. The resulting fire was brought under control by Cleveland Fire and Rescue. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a ’huge gush of fire’. The two injured members of staff were treated for shock.

In a statement, Terra Nitrogen said the explosion was caused by a problem with a pipe at the ammonia plant that led to a fire involving a mixture of gases including hydrogen, nitrogen and ammonia.

Andrea Sella, a chemist from University College London speculated over the causes of the blast. ’I would be very surprised if it’s the ammonia itself,’ he told Chemistry World, ’ammonia isn’t really explosive or flammable.’ Ammonia combustion produces just nitrogen and water. ’There shouldn’t be that much toxic stuff if ammonia burns,’ Sella said.

Terra Nitrogen supplies Lucite, an acrylics company that was recently fined €25 million (?17 million) for price-fixing. The European Union’s antitrust regulator handed out fines totalling €344.6 million ($441.9 million) to four chemical groups for price-fixing acrylic glass products. The other three companies were ICI, Arkema and French oil group Total. Whistle-blowers Degussa escaped what would have been the biggest fine of all by informing the EU about the cartel. 

Terra Nitrogen, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive are all investigating the cause of the Teesside blast.                                         

Katharine Sanderson