Fears of Toxic Smoke After an Industrial Explosion in Germany

BERLIN — A major industrial explosion and subsequent fire at a commercial waste disposal plant rattled the city of Leverkusen in western Germany on Tuesday, killing at least one worker and injuring more than a dozen others.

Federal authorities had quickly declared the situation an “extreme threat” and warned local residents to avoid the area, stay indoors, shut their windows and doors and switch off home air conditioning units fed by outside air as they assessed the toxicity of the smoke that billowed out from the site.

“A full analysis of the cloud that we all saw over the city today is not available,” said Lars Friedrich, the director of Chempark, the industrial facility where the explosion occurred, during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Friedrich noted that such an analysis could take several days.

The city of Leverkusen confirmed, one death and 16 workers with injuries, including four who were gravely injured. Four workers are still missing.

“I still have hope that the four that are still missing will be found alive,” said Mr. Friedrich.

The cause of the explosion, which occurred at around 9:40 a.m. local time, is still unknown. But the fire broke out in a tank depot, which held industrial solvents, sending a plume of thick black smoke billowing from the plant.

The wind quickly blew the smoke over inhabited parts of the area, which worried authorities. It took firefighters around three hours to extinguish the blaze.

The initial explosion was heard from miles away. By midday, local authorities had declared local air measurements in the area to be nontoxic and the situation stable. The police shut down local roads including several highways near the plant.

Although the site of the explosion is just seven and a half miles from the city of Cologne, the city’s firefighters said in a post on Twitter that the air in that city remained safe for residents.

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