A chemical accident caused a large-scale operation on Tuesday morning in the southern Styrian municipality of Ragnitz (Leibnitz district). According to the first findings of the police, a chemical reaction occurred shortly before 7 a.m. in a metal processing company in the Badendorf district. Specifically, metal parts in a tank were automatically treated with a pickling agent overnight. The reaction may have occurred because of a material defect or contamination (rust).
A gas mixture was formed from several substances, which escaped into the open in the form of an orange cloud and hovered over the place. She was first noticed by an employee from a neighboring company who dialed 911. The state warning center then triggered an environmental alarm, which was lifted shortly after 9 a.m.
Firefighters on duty
Initial reports that it was caustic and toxic nitric acid later turned out to be false. To be on the safe side, the population within a radius of five kilometers was asked to keep the windows and doors closed. Surrounding schools were also informed and asked to keep the windows closed. The entrances and exits to the affected towns of Ragnitz, Badendorf and Gundersdorf were temporarily blocked by the police. The first on site were emergency services from the St. Georgen an der Stiefing volunteer fire brigade, who explored the site wearing heavy respiratory protection. They were subsequently supported by their specially trained and equipped comrades from the Südwest pollutant train.
“Our experts are currently assuming that there was never any danger to the population or the environment. The interaction between the authorities and the emergency services worked in an exemplary manner,” reports Wolfgang Klemencic, Deputy District Governor of Leibnitz. There are no injuries at the affected facility because no employees were present at the time of the incident. Experts are now investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Company: “High security measures”
Siegfried Tieber, Managing Director of the affected company Niro-Expert GmbH, is also trying to clarify: “We have very high security measures. How this could have happened and which gas it was is still being analyzed. We are glad that no employee was injured and no environmental damage has occurred.” His operations manager, Werner Wallner, offers a first attempt at an explanation: “It was a normal work process with unforeseeable additional processes. Metal components were treated and cleaned with a highly diluted pickling medium, which can take up to 48 hours.” Gases can form due to rust on the metal parts. But this time it was far more gas than usual.
Mayor informed population
The mayor of Ragnitz, Manfred Sunko, who has only been in office for a few months, reacted quickly. “My wife noticed the cloud when she took the children to the kindergarten by bus in the morning and called me. I drove there immediately, fortunately the emergency services were already there.” The main task of the local chief was to calm concerned citizens: “A lot of people called, but there was no overreaction. We informed the population immediately via our community app and social media,” explains Sunko. He expressly thanks the authorities and emergency organizations deployed: “Fortunately, nothing worse happened as a result of their efforts.”