Chemical incident in Heidelberg, Germany, temporarily closes Autobahn and windows: community keeps calm


Early on Saturday morning, 2nd February, just before six o’clock in the morning, smoke started billowing out of a tank at the Kluthe / Rematec chemical works on the outskirts of Heidelberg, Germany.

The smoke was blown across the nearby A5 Autobahn, resulting in its closure, with traffic being diverted through Heidelberg and its suburbs. The fire services of Heidelberg and Mannheim were called to the scene and were able to shut off the valve that permitted the escape of smoke, with the special Analytical Unit from the Mannheim fire service setting up measurement stations around the site to monitor air contamination levels.

News spread quickly through the local community via emergency text messages, the local Rhein-Neckar Zeitung and Twitter, with initial advice to stay indoors and to keep windows and doors closed.

Polizei Mannheim Tweet
Tweet from the Mannheim police announcing the incident in Heidelberg

As events developed, the information that flowed was maintained at a calm, matter-of-fact level, with local news reporting only an unusual quiet as the inhabitants of the suburb of Wieblingen kept largely to that advice (once they – along with the original author of this piece – had been to the bakers to get their morning rolls).

Between 10:30 and 11:00 the incident was officially reported to be over and that contamination levels remained comfortably below their limits.

Heidelberg all-clear
Tweet from Heidelberg City account confirming that windows and doors can be opened once again

Nevertheless, one fire fighter, three members of the police force and one passer-by reported headaches and dizziness resulting from the accident.

Rematec is a specialist in recycling waste chemicals from branches such as the paint and adhesives industries, to recover solvents and other compounds for re-use. In this case, an unplanned reaction in a tank used for the recovery of the solvent toluene took place; a safety valve blew off, resulting in the escape of a thick plume smoke that forced the closure of the Autobahn. The reaction ended approximately 2.5 hours after it begun.

Kluthe / Rematec confirmed that they hold regular fire exercises with the local services. The recycling process for the particular mix of chemicals had been in safe and regular use for six years prior to Saturday’s incident.

 

It is noted that the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung added the word “dramatic” to the article published on Sunday (link above). The paper’s photogallery shows personnel in orange hazmet suits surrounded by fire service personnel without additional breathing equipment.

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