A year after the Kimpark Leverkusen explosions, the danger remains

One year ago, on July 27, 2021, one of the worst industrial accidents in the German chemical industry in modern history occurred in Kempark Leverkusen, north of Cologne. Seven workers were killed in the explosion of a chemical waste disposal tank farm. The bodies of two workers killed in the accident were immediately recovered. Five were initially considered missing. The seventh death was discovered only several days later.

Firefighting efforts after the explosion of Kimpark Leverkusen on July 27, 2021 (Photo: Krenta)

The grieving families, wives and children of the workers who lost their lives have suffered great suffering, aggravated by the fact that the cause of the accident has not yet been fully clarified and the responsible authorities in the company have not been held accountable.

A widowed woman in the previous year’s disaster said to Rheinische Post“I feel like a part of me has been amputated.” Her husband was working the early shift on the day of the accident. The couple, who have a young daughter, were happy. They bought a house, they had dreams and plans. The disaster at the chemical park operator Corinta has plunged them and other families into the abyss.

The question is tormenting those affected as well as Chempark workers: How could the disaster happen, and who is to blame? I sincerely hope that those responsible will be held accountable. Even if you don’t bring back our loved ones, the widowed mother told the Guardian Rheinische Post. But the company just put it off and told her it would take some time. Moreover, her lawyer has not yet been allowed to access the relevant files.

Chempark, with sites in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld, is one of the largest chemical parks in Europe. At the end of 2016, about 48,000 people were employed in about 70 companies and service providers located there. These include the Bayer Chemical group and many of its subsidiaries. Currenta is the company that operates Chempark. The company was owned by Bayer as its industrial services division until 2007. Bayer held a majority stake in Currenta until three years ago. Then Australian financial investor Macquarie acquired the majority of the company.

The explosion occurred on a tank farm at the Chempark waste disposal center in Leverkusen-Burrig. This is where chemical waste from all Chempark companies is recycled and disposed of, as well as hazardous waste from outside companies. The explosion, which caused a fire in the tank farm, was affected by three tanks containing organic solvents. Each tank was filled with 200,000 to 300,000 liters. They were all destroyed “in whole or in part”, Chempark president Lars Friedrich announced after the explosion.

Soon after the explosion it was clear that chemical reactions were taking place in these tanks. However, the operator Currenta only disclosed the information that the authorities were forced to provide. As such, it took an extremely long time before a clear picture of the course and cause of the accident emerged.

West German Radio (WDR) reported on June 17, 2022, that both Currenta and temporary workers killed or injured in the explosion were not given enough information about the hazardous nature of the waste: “In the case of the big eruption at Leverkusen Chempark, employees from the hazardous waste facility apparently did not did not have the necessary information about the hazardous nature of the waste.” This came from a report to the state parliament from the Ministry of the Environment of North Rhine-Westphalia. Among other important details, it was determined that information regarding the thermal sensitivity of the waste was missing.

The report states: “From the investigations into the cause of the accident carried out so far, it was found that for temperature-sensitive waste delivered from Denmark, not all necessary information was available about the hazardousness of the waste, such as the tendency to decompose through simultaneous self-heating and an increase in volume “.

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