The bang of the explosion could be heard for kilometers, and the cloud of smoke that rose afterwards could also be seen from other cities: There was an explosion at the chemical park in Leverkusen on Tuesday morning - for "as yet unknown cause," as the chemical park operator Currenta initially announced. According to Currenta, the explosion did not occur on the core site of the chemical park, but in the area of the landfill and waste incineration. After the explosion, a tank farm had caught fire. The fire was extinguished late at noon.
16 people were injured in the accident, two of them seriously. Initially, the city had spoken of four seriously injured. The chemical park operator announced in the afternoon that one missing employee had been found dead, with four others still missing. "We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and the death of an employee," said chemical park manager Lars Friedrich. "We are doing everything we can to ensure that the situation is under control. We still have a hazardous situation," Friedrich said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Three tanks containing production waste from chemical park customers exploded on the site of the hazardous waste incinerator. Burned solvents, the chemical park operator said. After the explosion, first a white and then a black mushroom cloud of smoke rose, due to the wind, the smoke column initially moved in the direction of Bergisches Land. "A precise analysis of the cloud is not available to us at this time. We have to ask for patience there, so we have not yet withdrawn the warning situation," Friedrich said.
The fire department advised residents to keep windows and doors closed and to go indoors because of the smoke development. Warnings about the smoke were also issued via the NINA app for the nearby towns of Wermelskirchen, Burscheid and Leichlingen - residents from Solingen were also informed about possible odor pollution. In some districts in Leverkusen, playgrounds are now being closed as a precaution. Residents who have fruit in their gardens should wash it off before eating it.
"Tragic day for Leverkusen"
"It is a tragic day for Leverkusen," said Leverkusen's mayor Uwe Richrath (SPD). The city is closely rooted in the chemical industry, he said, adding that almost every family has someone who works or has worked at the chemical park. According to Currenta, around 50 to 60 employees work on average every day in the area of the hazardous waste facility, the landfill and the community wastewater treatment plant.
This area is located north of the Leverkusen interchange, where the A1, A59 and also the A3 freeways intersect. The actual chemical park lies to the south of the freeway. After the explosion, the police initially closed the A1 in both directions, and traffic jams also occurred on the other highways on Tuesday.
Because the explosion also damaged a power line, Currenta had also briefly considered the power supply at the chemical park to be unsecured. "We had production at our customers curtailed so that power consumption would go down," Friedrich said. Customers at the chemical park include the pharmaceutical and agricultural chemicals group Bayer and the specialty chemicals company Lanxess, for example. Employees from administrative areas were therefore sent home so that there would be no more chaos at the site in the event of a power outage. "There was no evacuation of the site because of the event, but because of the power supply," Friedrich said.
It initially remained open when the cause of the accident would be determined. The focus of the plant fire department's operations is currently the search for missing persons, he said. Only then could the tanks be examined.
Photo by Ozzie Stern