School closed in poisonous gas alert

The Dubai Civil Defence has warned of danger from poisonous gases emitted from a still-smouldering chemical factory that was the site of a spectacular blaze last week.

A fire burns at the back of the Reda Industrial Materials warehouse in Dubai Investments Park last night.
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DUBAI // A school has been shut down for the rest of the week because of what Civil Defence officials described as "poisonous gases" from a smouldering fire at a nearby chemical factory.

It is the second time Greenfield Community School has been closed since the blaze last Tuesday at the Reda Industrial Materials warehouse in Dubai Investments Park.

The warehouse burst into flames after what witnesses called an enormous explosion that sent a fireball hundreds of metres into the air.

More than 70 different industrial and food chemicals were believed to have been stored in the warehouse at the time of the fire.

"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," the Civil Defence said in a notice to the school yesterday.

It urged the school not to reopen until next week.

Greenfield, which has more than 1,000 pupils, was evacuated last Wednesday. Classes resumed on Sunday after Civil Defence said it was safe to return.

Despite the notice, Civil Defence yesterday insisted there were no dangerous gases in the area, and the school had been asked to close only as a precautionary measure.

"We asked that the children remain out of school simply as a precaution," said Brig Ahmad Al Sayegh, the assistant general manager of Dubai Civil Defence.

"There are no dangerous gases in the area but because the wind direction changed towards where the school is located we decided to issue this order.

"If there were dangerous gases present our personnel would be wearing their breathing apparatus, but they are not. There were 70 different chemicals that ignited the day of the fire and we are concerned about the chemicals reacting."

But anxious parents asked yesterday why their children were allowed to attend school for two days this week. They also demanded to know what chemicals had been stored at the facility.

"It seems shocking the children were allowed in the school if things are floating in the air," said Alison, the mother of a child at the school. "The lack of information is frustrating. They have to tell us what was in the fire if a week later it is still smouldering. Somebody knows something and they are not telling us."

Another parent who lives close to the factory said she had seen smoke there as late as last evening.

"I did not send them to school on Sunday because in our neighbourhood we could smell the smoke," she said. "The school should have been closed right away when the fire broke out last week."

School authorities sent an independent contractor to test the air last weekend before reopening the school on Sunday.

"The contractor tested the air quality inside and outside the school, and the air conditioners," said Clive Pierrepont, the director of communications for Taaleem, which manages the school. "We will repeat the process again now."

The school is about 2.5 kilometres from the warehouse. Other schools inside the investment park have continued to operate normally.

Reda officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.

In a statement on their website last Wednesday, the company said: "Due to the rapid response of Reda's team and the local fire department, the fire was prevented from spreading.

"Although the fire destroyed large parts of the storage facility, the safety of Reda's employees, the community, and the surrounding environment remained the company's number one priority."

It said the warehouse had been used to store "products used in the manufacture of paints and coatings, construction chemicals, personal care and food-processing".

The cause of the fire was still being investigated.

* With additional reporting by Essam Al Ghalib