A freight train crashed into three rail cars near the southern city Dimona late Monday, causing bromine to leak from a freight car and lightly injuring seven people.
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The Environmental Protection Ministry said the leak was relatively minor but told residents within about a kilometer of the accident to remain inside until early Tuesday.
The ministry told store owners nearby to remain closed Tuesday morning until the ground was decontaminated. The director general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, Yisrael Dancziger, ordered an investigation.
The police said the three rails cars had become detached from a train traveling on the tracks earlier. According to a preliminary investigation, the cars disconnected from train and the relevant warning system failed to inform the incoming train of the remaining cars.
Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva said the seven injured had arrived with mild burns and were vomiting. Two were railway employees and five were local residents. Engineers from Israel Chemicals’ Bromine Compounds subsidiary were called in to help the rescue services.
Police used loudspeakers to ask residents living up to 900 meters from the leak to remain inside with their windows shut until the morning. For three hours, the entrance to Dimona on Route 25 from Be’er Sheva was closed, as was the entrance to the city from Yeruham.
The tank car held 21 tons of bromine. The car was knocked over but did not break open; valves were apparently damaged, allowing the leak.
If the car had burst open it could have caused a disaster. The rescue workers had to remove the car from the area without causing a more serious leak.
The bromine is produced at the Dead Sea and is used in industrial products such as fire retardants. It is very volatile and its fumes can cause serious damage to the lungs and nervous system. Bromine is very dangerous even in low concentrations.
The bromine is usually transported to Haifa Port by train from Dimona’s Mishor Rotem industrial area. Israel Railways has steel tank cars for transporting bromine, which are then encased in a steel cage.
These tanks are supposed to be safe even if they were to fall two meters. Because of the danger involved, the bromine is only transported at night.