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1 Sep, 2011 09:24

Toxic cloud poisons pupils’ fest

Celebrations of the first day at school were marred for many children in Russia’s Ural region when a railway accident caused a leak of toxic bromine gas. The poisonous cloud covered several parts of the city of Chelyabinsk.

Emergency services received dozens of calls from citizens of Chelyabinsk on Thursday after a train carriage was damaged during a coupling operation and leaked highly-poisonous bromine vapor.  No casualties have been reported for the moment, but dozens of people have sought medical assistance.  The Russian Investigative Committee reported 31 requests for medical attention. Eight people were reported to be in hospital with symptoms of poisoning, according to the city administration.

Bromine is a naturally occurring element, it is a liquid at room temperature. It has a brownish-red color with a bleach-like odor, and dissolves in water. Bromine is used in agriculture, sanitation and as fire retardants. Breathing this gas could cause you to cough, have trouble breathing, get a headache, have irritation of your mucous membranes, or have watery eyes.

The cloud of toxic was clearly visible over some districts of Chelyabinsk. The authorities urged citizens to stay at home, all celebrations of the Day of Knowledge were cancelled and pupils were forced to stay in schools or at home. A relief operation is underway at the station where the accident happened and the leaks have been reportedly been contained for the moment. More than 40 special units and around 100 firemen have been involved in the operation. The damaged carriage has been moved away from the city vicinity. It allegedly contained around 2,000 cans of liquid bromine, each containing five liters of the chemical. Around 10 were damaged. The gas cloud over the city is expected to disperse by the end of the day, the authorities say.