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5,000 Evacuated After Chlorine Leak
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Five thousand people have been evacuated after a chlorine leak in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, officials with the local government said on Wednesday.


The leak occurred around 9:00 AM on Wednesday at a water plant in Yilan county, in the eastern part of Harbin City, capital of Heilongjiang, said Zhao Changman, deputy chief of the county government.


Zhao said 2,000 students and teachers in a nearby school and about 3,000 residents in the area have been evacuated.


Zhao said he did not know whether any people have been hospitalized.


Six fire engines and a digger were sent to the scene, and about 20 fire fighters were on the spot handling the accident.


Zhao said the water plant has three chlorine tanks, and one of them leaked.


The tank, about 1.5 meters high and 500 cm in diameter, was partly buried in the ground. Rescuers used diggers to dig out the tank and place it into a ditch filled with water. They are adding sodium hydroxide to trigger a chemical reaction to prevent the chlorine from evaporating into the air.


Residents have started returning to their homes. The school is waiting to hear whether they can open tomorrow.


Zhao said the area where the leak occurred is a long way from the Songhuajiang river and will not pollute it.


Local environment authorities are monitoring the air quality in the area. Investigation into the cause of the accident is underway.


Chlorine is a liquid when held under pressure but turns into a gas when released. The toxic fumes can cause respiratory problems if inhaled.


This is the second chlorine leak to be reported in China this year. On March 12, 59 workers were sickened by a chlorine spill in Pudong district of Shanghai when they were demolishing the Shanghai Solvent to make way for the 2010 Expo.


(Xinhua News Agency April 26, 2007)

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