Factory denies poison gas threat as school closes
DUBAI // A manager of the chemical factory that burst into flames last week and continued to smoulder yesterday denied there were toxic gases in the air.
The denial came a day before the Greenfield Community School, which was shut down as a precaution, is to hold an informational session about the closure for parents.
The meeting today also follows a warning from Dubai Civil Defence about dangerous gases in the area.
"There are no poisonous gases," said Karim Smadi, the regional manager of Reda Industrial Materials, which owns the warehouses.
"We consider there are no risks. But we are not in a position to say what kind of precautionary measures that the school should take."
Mr Smadi said it was up to the authorities to issue instructions.
More than 70 chemicals were stored at the plant at the time of the fire. Civil Defence was still investigating the cause of the blaze yesterday. Smoke continued to rise from the company's four gutted warehouses in Dubai Investments Park at 4.30pm yesterday. Only an administrative building remained untouched.
But Reda said smouldering had stopped by last evening.
More than 50 employees were working at the facility when the fire erupted last Tuesday.
Reda said chemicals for making food, detergents and shampoos, paints and pencil coatings had been stored at the plant, along with yeast for bakeries and large amounts of spices for the meat industry.
And the company said large quantities of chemicals derived from cellulose, synthetic rubbers and polymers that are used in cement modification had been the hardest to extinguish.
"Once they burn at high temperatures there is nothing left," Mr Smadi said. "Any plant uses several chemicals and when they burn they take time to extinguish. Any fire will smoulder for a few days but authorities ensured that the smouldering ended quickly."
Although a detailed list of the chemicals stored in the warehouse was not provided, an environmentalist said some of the chemicals could be causes of concern.
"Once you inhale this you can become sick, depending on the chemicals," said Larry Garduno, an environment, health and safety officer with Trakhees, which issues licences and monitors companies in the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation.
Rubber and some types of paint were known to release dangerous chemicals when burned, Mr Garduno said, but a detailed assessment could only be made when it was known what substances and how much of them had been burnt.
Abdallah Abu Jazar, the managing director of Integrated Scientific Solutions, a Dubai company that sells pollution-monitoring equipment, said the incident showed the need to improve industrial safety practices.
While authorities strictly controlled the chemicals that were imported, oversight was more lax on how the substances were transported, stored and used when they were in the UAE, Mr Abu Jazar said.
Although regulations exist they must be better implemented with regular monitoring of factories and chemical warehouses, he said.
"It starts with education, as well as monitoring and implementing the rules," Mr Abu Jazar said.
Even as a clean-up of the plant was expected to get under way, the Greenfield Community School said it would discuss the situation with parents in a two-hour session today.
Clive Pierrepont, a spokesman for the school, said a representative from the investment park would attend the meeting.
The school is about 2.5 kilometres from the fire site. Other schools inside the park continued to operate normally after the fire.
Greenfield was evacuated last Wednesday but reopened this week after Civil Defence gave approval.
After holding classes for two days the school, which has more than 1,000 pupils, was instructed not to reopen until the start of next week.
In a circular to the school, Civil Defence said: "We would like to inform you that the air surrounding the site of the fire which took place at the chemical warehouse is still polluted by poisonous gases carried by plumes of smoke."
But a Civil Defence official said the school had been instructed to close as a precaution, and that the air was not toxic.
"There are no dangerous gases in the area," said Brig Ahmad Al Sayegh, the assistant general manager of the Dubai Civil Defence.
" … but because the wind direction changed towards where the school is located, we decided to issue this order."
Mr Smadi said Reda would start cleaning up the facility after it received clearance from police, the Civil Defence and the insurance company.
Published: October 20, 2011 04:00 AM