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Workers exposed to potentially lethal Shell gas leak

Victoria MacDonald   |  July 22nd, 2011

WORKSAFE Victoria will visit Shell on Monday to probe how two contractors were exposed to potentially lethal gas in a leak at the Corio oil refinery yesterday.

Eight CFA crews from across Geelong were called to the Shell plant after the company sounded a major alert about 8.35am after hydrogen sulfide, a flammable and poisonous gas, was found to have leaked from one of the refinery pumps.

Yesterday’s alert was deemed to be of the highest level of three available to Shell, according to CFA sources.

The gas is found in crude oil and is removed during the refining process.

WorkSafe Victoria spokesman Michael Birt said the leak had come as fitters worked on a line in the plant, preparing it for a future shutdown.

“They opened an area on to a live system; there was a mix of gasoline and hydrogen sulfide gas,” Mr Birt said.

“It leaked out and they were exposed.

“The hydrogen sulfide detector alarm went off, which initiated the emergency measures.”

The exposed contractors attended the plant’s health centre for assessment by Shell medical staff and Ambulance Victoria paramedics, but did not require hospital treatment.

Mr Birt said the flow to that line had been stopped within minutes and the leak was isolated before the CFA arrived.

Shell spokesman Paul Zenarro said the company was still investigating the cause of the leak.

“Although the leak was minor, the refinery’s major siren was sounded as a precautionary measure to evacuate employees out of the immediate area,” he said.

Shell notified the Environment Protection Authority of the leak, but the pollution watchdog is leaving Shell to investigate the incident itself, a spokeswoman said.

The National Pollutions Index advises exposure to high levels of hydrogen sulfide can lead to collapse, coma and death from respiratory failure, while prolonged exposure to lower concentrations may cause sleeplessness, blurred vision, haemorrhage and death.

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