Two men died and a third is fighting for life after a hydrogen sulphide gas leak at a paper mill near Albury, Australia, officials said.
Emergency crews got the call to the Norske Skog mill at Ettamogah Thursday after workers were overcome by the gas during routine maintenance.
A 28-year-old worker who was found unconscious at the site died at Albury Base Hospital Thursday, and a 36-year-old worker died in the hospital overnight.
Two other men remain in hospital, including a 22-year-old who remained in critical condition.
“The injuries and related fallout from what occurred yesterday is consistent with that gas, but still needs to be established,” said Scott Kidd, of Safe Work NSW.
Hydrogen sulphide, a colorless gas with the odor of rotten eggs, can pool in low areas because it is denser than air.
At low levels, the gas can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, shortness of breath and nausea. At high levels, it can overcome a person and cause loss of consciousness. Exposure to high concentrations of the gas can result in pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs.
About 150 people evacuated from the building after the leak, and 18 were taken to hospital, but 14 have since been discharged.
All of those affected were from the Albury-Wodonga area, said Rodney Hannan, of the NSW Ambulance Service.
“The mill did a wonderful job removing [the other workers] to a safe site and they held them here until we could get fully informed on what needed to be done and if anyone else needed to be transported to hospital.”
Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Stewart Alexander said the building was “quickly sealed off” after the incident.
“Our number one priority of course is the welfare of those persons, so we assisted ambulance personnel in treating them,” he said.
“We had firefighters driving ambulances back to Albury Base Hospital.
Norske Skog is a major employer in Albury-Wodonga area. The mill remains closed.
In a statement, Norske Skog said it was cooperating with all investigations.
“Our first concern is to our employees, their families and everyone affected by this tragic accident,” general manager Milo Foster said.
Albury Mayor Kevin Mack said the mill had a very good safety record.
“They’re trying to determine if the gas is directly responsible or if it’s another issue associated with this particular maintenance shutdown,” Mack said.
“My heart goes out to the men and the families and the people attached to the families of these young men, and certainly to the man who’s fighting for his life in hospital,” he said.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union described the deaths as a tragedy.
“We will be working with our union delegates and Safe Work to determine the cause of the incident and will make more comment once the circumstances of this tragedy become clearer,” the union said in a statement.