Dozens seek help after bromine leak in Russia

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Twenty-four litres of toxic element bromine leaked Thursday from containers on a railway station in Russia's Urals, sending yellow fumes in the air and forcing more than 30 people to seek medical help.

The fuming red-brown liquid with an "aggressive odour" was released into the air when some 8-10 five-litre glass containers broke in a rail carriage at the railway station in the industrial city of Chelyabinsk nearly 2,000 kilometres east of Moscow, the emergencies ministry said.

Footage broadcast on national television showed clouds of yellow smoke floating in the air, police in gas masks cordoning off the affected area and some residents wearing blue gauze masks.

The train car carried a total of 2,063 glass containers of bromine and was later hauled outside the city, the emergencies ministry said.

Moscow-based investigators said the toxic liquid was released into the air as a result of violation of safety procedures.

"Around 24 litres of liquid bromine spilled at the station as a result of car coupling," investigators said, citing preliminary information.

They said 31 people sought medical help, while local authorities said separately that eight people were hospitalised. Bromine is poisonous to humans and can cause damage to internal organs and the nervous system.

Andrei, a resident of Chelyabinsk, told the Echo of Moscow radio that the bromine leakage had interrupted the first day of school, adding several schools made a decision not to assemble pupils and teachers in school yards to mark the start of a school year.

He estimated that around 200,000 people might have experienced breathing difficulties.

Local authorities insisted the city was not in danger and called on the media not to "sow panic," even though they admitted that bromine could exacerbate existing health problems like bronchial allergy.

© 2011 AFP

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