NINE people were taken to hospital and villagers from miles around were warned to stay indoors after a chemical leak at a Holmes Chapel factory released a toxic cloud and sparked a major alert yesterday.
Fire crews from Holmes Chapel, Sandbach, Congleton, Crewe and Middlewich were drafted in after hydrochloric acid spewed out from a valve on a storage tank at the specialist chemical company, Rhodia Chirex.
More than 30 firefighters wearing protective clothing were called in to help contain the leak which occurred at the premises on the Aventis Pharma site at London Road shortly after 7am.
Villagers in Brereton, Arclid and Brownlow were warned to stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed to protect them from the vapours which are an irritant to the eyes, nose and chest.
Police set up roadblocks and closed the main A50.
Motorists driving in the near vicinity were warned to keep windows closed and switch off fans.
Speaking at the height of the incident, Victor Turner, of Cheshire Fire Brigade Control, said: 'We've got seven appliances and two special incident units there.
'We don't know how much acid has actually been released from the tank but it doesn't seem to be a huge amount.
'We think it's leaking at the rate of about six or seven litres per minute.'
As the Chronicle went to press, Leighton Hospital spokesman Ian Lewsey confirmed nine people had been taken to hospital.
'They were treated in the accident and emergency department for eye and respiratory related problems and were later discharged,' he said.
Two of those treated are understood to be police officers, the others contractors and Aventis personnel working at the Holmes Chapel site.
Tony Walmsley, Holmes Chapel site manager for Rodia Chirex, which manufactures active ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry, said it was the first incident of its kind at the chemical company - which is not part of Aventis Pharma.
He said: 'The acid has been retained in a retention wall designed for this purpose and is being dealt with by the emergency services in conjunction with site personnel.'
He added: 'As a result of the release a vapour cloud was generated.'
The incident ended five-and-a-half hours later with the all-clear given at 12.30pm.