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Increase in chemical incidents reported

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) today reveals that it recorded 1,015 chemical incidents in England and Wales in 2007 - up 5% on the 2006 figures.

The increase is explained by the wide use of chemicals in industry, farming and the home - there are frequent incidents involving chemicals in the UK and in other developed countries.

Fires were the most common cause of chemical releases, accounting for 28% of the 2007 total. Chemical spills accounted for 14% of the total and leaks of chemicals also accounted for 14%.

Releases of vapours and gases (including carbon monoxide gas) accounted for 15% of the total.

The information is revealed in the HPA's Chemical Incident Surveillance Review 2006-2007. The incidents varied in seriousness, from a major fire at a plastics' factory in Corby, Northamptonshire, to broken mercury thermometers inside people's homes.

Dr Patrick Saunders, lead editor of the report, said: "Providing specialist advice to help the public health response to chemical incidents is a major function of the HPA. The surveillance system for England and Wales helps the HPA anticipate emerging trends and reduce exposure to chemical incidents."

He added: "The database shows that chemical incidents don't usually cause fatalities in England and Wales but there is a risk of short-term symptoms and health effects in some cases."