The Hemel Hempstead oil depot fire accident has been described as an environmental tragedy by the firefighters engaged in putting out the blaze. The flames are reportedly spewing out a toxic cocktail of chemicals. Fears of a yet another explosion from a highly volatile fuel tank led to the suspension of the firefighting efforts. The firemen returned later in the evening when the all-clear signal had been given.
As many as 150 fire service personnel drawn from 16 fire services are engaged in bringing the blaze under control. The intense heat is preventing the firemen from getting closer than 100 yards from the flames. The fire fighters have been attempting to cool the area with the object of preventing further explosions. The cause of the explosion is reported to be an accident, and a full-fledged investigation into the incident will be held by the country's Health and Safety Executive.
As much as 32,000 liters of foam and water were used per minute to put out the flames in 12 of the 22 tanks. There are also concerns with regard to tank 7. Traffic was also disrupted due to the M10 being closed throughout the day, and M1 being closed temporarily. Major environmental damage is likely to result from the accident, with its impact being felt on the ground and surface water quality.
This can be avoided by preventing the 'run off' escaping from the accident site, a task on which the fire service personnel are engaged upon. Abstraction boreholes have also been closed down to prevent drinking water from getting contaminated by the toxic substances, while people have been advised to remain indoors. There is however no fear of any long-term impacts on the environment because of the fire accident.
People who suffer from respiratory problems, chronic bronchitis, or cardiac problems have been called upon to be vigilant. The oil that is burning is refined oil, and burning crude oil would have caused damage that would have been far more extensive. The Met Office is engaged in measuring the toxic plume and the soot particles caused by the flames.
The residential areas which have been evacuated by the residents are being patrolled by the police to prevent burglaries and looting. Dr Dick van Steenis has warned that heart attacks may triggered by inhaling the smoke from the flames. The smoke is billowing across the southern part of the country. The British Lung Foundation has already warned that the smoke may affect the brain and the lungs. More information can be obtained from website of the Health Protection Agency www.hpa.org.uk.