Two in hospital after 14 treated for gas leak effects at fish factory
Fourteen people were taken to hospital after they began vomiting and gasping for air following an ammonia leak at a Co Down fish processing factory.
Eight ambulances, three fire appliances and the air ambulance were dispatched to Kilkeel harbour shortly after 12.30pm yesterday following the "short but significant" gas leak at Young's Seafood Limited.
The 14 casualties were taken to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, and a number of others were treated at the scene.
Two patients were admitted and last night their conditions were described as stable.
Two were given oxygen by Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue (NIFRS) crews before paramedics arrived.
Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus then surveyed the site with gas monitors and stood down once all readings were zero.
One source said it was lucky no one was seriously injured during the incident.
"The leak was in Young's but due to the wind direction none of the staff there were even aware of it," he said.
"All the gas blew over into Rooney's factory and was inhaled by employees as they went about their work.
"All of a sudden they were vomiting and struggling to breathe."
The fishing industry worker said he was all too aware of the dangers posed by ammonia and warned the situation could have been much worse.
"The leak was stopped almost immediately.
"However, a very significant amount of gas escaped into the air during that very short time," he added.
"Even exposure to a small amount of such a dangerous gas will take the air out of your lungs.
"Those who were injured were given oxygen, which is the first thing you would need."
Young's Seafood said that engineers were conducting routine annual tests when a "small leak" occurred and was stopped immediately.
It added that it was not aware of any Young's employees being affected.
Business is due to resume as normal today.
Young's Seafood and Rooney Fish factories are located in the same cul-de-sac which ensured the disruption was restricted to that proximity.
One employee said most people in other parts of the harbour "just got on with their business" and were unaware of the incident until emergency services arrived.
NIFRS group commander Alan O'Neill said the leak had been isolated by the time crews arrived and that there was no risk to the public.
He said: "It wouldn't be something that we come across regularly.
"It's obviously very dangerous, so thankfully on this occasion there doesn't seem to be any significant impact."
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust said it implemented its "major incident plan following a suspected chemical incident".
They had urged members of the public to try and avoid the emergency department unless it was urgent.
South Down SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley also praised emergency crews for their "prompt action" following the leak.
Ulster Unionist Party councillor Jill Macauley described the incident as "very worrying" and "potentially dangerous" but expressed relief that no one was seriously injured.
"I hope that the remaining patients in hospital make a speedy recovery from this ordeal," she added.
She also thanked the emergency services and medical teams involved for their professionalism.
The Health and Safety Executive is now expected to carry out a further investigation at the site of the incident.