Workers were evacuated after a chemical leak at Interwaste Environmental Solutions in Germiston.Picture: Matthews Baloyi/The Star
Johannesburg – The strong stench of chlorine still hung in the air hours after an early morning chemical leak on Monday at a hazardous waste treatment facility in Germiston that left more than 100 workers hospitalised.

“One hundred and twenty-four workers from the Interwaste Germiston depot on Power Street were treated at the scene for chest pain and respiratory distress before being transported to nearby hospitals for further treatment,” said Ekurhuleni Disaster and Emergency Management Services (DEMS) spokesperson William Ntladi.

“Two of the workers are in critical condition, but other members of the public are not known to have been affected,” he explained.

Ntladi said the cause of the chemical reaction was not yet known but it was as a result of about 6 000 kilograms of HTH chlorine being put into a Skip Waste bin at the depot.

“It began to react and create smoke, which affected the workers."

“The Germiston and Boksburg fire departments responded to a 6:40am call but were unable to give an exact time when the cleanup began,” he said.

Ntladi added that DEMS investigators were investigating the matter.

By 11:30am the situation was nearly contained.

Although the chemical reaction took place within the premises of the depot, signs of the chlorine spill were still visible in the area around midday.

Piles of sawdust and white chlorine marks lined the road extending from the depot’s entrance on Power Street, all the way towards the outer perimeter of the nearby Tongaat Hulett Germiston mill.

Donning yellow vests, white dust masks and thick red gloves, Interwaste workers swept sawdust over the sites of the spill along the street.

Leon Grobbelaar, the facilities director at Interwaste, said initial investigations indicated that a chemical auto-reaction occurred in a waste storage container on site.

“The site’s staff were immediately evacuated as a precautionary measure, and people in neighbouring properties were requested to remain indoors with the windows and doors closed."

"People who were exposed to the emissions were sent to hospital for observation,” he said.

“All reasonable steps were taken to contain the emissions and to ensure the safety of Interwaste’s staff, external stakeholders and the surrounding community,” Grobbelaar added.

He said a mobile clinic had been made available for the use of people in the vicinity of the site if they were concerned about their potential exposure to the emissions.

“The incident is being investigated by Interwaste’s health and safety department, together with the applicable authorities,” according to Grobbelaar.

The Star