AROUND 20 casualties have been treated in hospital following a chemical incident at a Runcorn power plant.

It happened at the newly-commissioned energy from waste plant in Percival Lane.

Warrington Hospital’s accident and emergency department has been on 'lock down' today, Thursday, while medical staff deal with injured employees.

Casualties were decontaminated and a few suffered minor respiratory problems following the spillage of mainly hydrated lime known as 'air pollution control residue'.

A spokesman for Warrington Hospital said: “Warrington Hospital A&E is currently dealing with a major internal incident following a small chemical explosion at a plant in Runcorn this afternoon.

“A number of casualties have been admitted following the incident that has led to the department being locked down temporarily whilst the casualties are admitted.

“There is no risk to staff or public on site and other hospital services are running as normal."

Ambulances bringing patients not involved in the incident were diverted to other hospitals.

Firefighters attended the hospital in case their help was needed with decontamination.

The incident happened at 10.45am at the Keppel Seghers site at the energy from waste plant, which has only just started operating, in Percival Lane.

The plant, run by Viridor, will supply the neighbouring IneosChlor chemical plant with up to 20 per cent of its energy.

A spokesman for Cheshire Police said: “At 1pm today police received reports of an incident at Keppel Seghers.

“While carrying out work on the site a number of workmen have come into contact with a substance, which has caused irritation to the eyes and respiratory problems.

“A number of people were taken to Warrington Hospital in works vehicles where they are currently being assessed.

“The circumstances surrounding the incident are currently being explored and enquiries are continuing.”

A spokesman for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “People presented themselves to the hospital which triggered us sending an appliance to the site.”

Sources say staff have been sent home early following the incident, which is believed to have been caused by a release of 'lime'.

UPDATED 4.30PM: A hospital spokesman said most of the patients have now been discharged.

A couple of casualties are still being monitored but it is expected they will be able to go home today.

UPDATED 5.05PM: The A&E department at Warrington Hospital is now fully open again. A hospital spokesman confirmed there had been no major injuries from 20 people brought in following the chemical incident.

UPDATED 5.15PM: A spokesman for Viridor said: "Viridor confirms that at approximately 10.45am today there was a spillage of Air Pollution Control Residue (mainly hydrated lime) at the Runcorn Energy from Waste (EfW) Plant. 

"Site procedures were followed throughout and an ambulance attended the scene and has taken one worker (who has an underlying health condition) to Warrington Hospital as a precaution. 

"Sixteen people have self-presented to Warrington A&E in addition, who received small amounts of wind blow dust on their clothing. 15 persons have already returned to site.

"The spillage occurred during the current commissioning phase of the plant by Keppel Seghers, the managing contractor on the site. 

"The spillage has been contained and covers a very small localised area of the site. Hydrated lime, an odourless white powder, is used as part of the air pollution control process and is deemed as an irritant to eyes and skin.

"All other contractors are continuing to work on site whilst the incident is dealt with. A full investigation will be conducted.

"For clarification this is not a ‘cloudburst’ incident and has not occurred on the adjacent INEOS site."