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Chemical vapor escape from storage tank in Hanwha Total Petrochemicals Plant in Seosan, Korea

Christian Fernsby |
Hanwha TotalChemical vapor vented for some 40 minutes from a storage tank at the Hanwha Total Petrochemicals Plant in Seosan, South Chungcheong, on Friday.

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Till 2 p.m. Sunday, 327 people exposed to the vapor had received treatment for nausea, eye irritation and headaches, according to Seosan officials.

Hanwha Total Petrochemicals suspects the contamination was caused by a sudden increase in temperature in the storage tank.

The Ministry of Environment announced that the leaked chemicals are not toxic.

The event started around 12:30 p.m. when the temperature increased in a tank of styrene monomer, vaporizing the liquid chemical.

Styrene monomer is used to make plastics for molded parts or as insulation foam and is an irritant.

The vapor vented high into the air for around 40 minutes, and spread to neighboring areas, reaching a village 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away.

The plant was able to prevent the tank from exploding by lowering the temperature with the help of firefighters.

The leak was contained around 2 p.m.

Residents near the area said it was not the first time they felt nauseous because of the plant, but on the day of the accident, it was much worse.

“I felt nausea and had a headache, and my whole family felt nauseous,” said a resident in the area.

Another leak occurred Saturday at around 3 a.m., sending about 10 of the plant’s employees to the hospital.

“The vapor escaped in the process of applying a coolant to the storage tank in question,” said an official of Hanwha Total Petrochemicals.

“It is not another leakage.”

With two accidents occurring in quick succession at the plant, civic groups and residents in the area protested, demanding precautions be taken to prevent accidents from happening and a probe to be carried out.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor ordered the facility be shut down after the second accident occurred.

A labor inspection will be carried out to review working conditions.

Kwon Hyek-woong, president of Hanwha Total Petrochemicals, posted an apology regarding the incident on the company’s website on Saturday.

“There will be a thorough inspection by a professional company, and we will take precautions to prevent this from happening again,” read the apology by Kwon.

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