Colchester council workers taken ill in chemical fear

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Media captionFor the second time in 10 days staff at the council offices in Colchester have been taken ill

Eleven people have been treated by paramedics after their council workplace was evacuated amid a chemical scare for the second time in just 10 days.

Affected staff at Essex County Council's offices in The Crescent, Colchester, complained of dizziness, sickness and a strange mouth taste.

All staff were evacuated from the building by 11:30 BST on Monday.

The incident comes just 10 days after a similar incident there.

The fire service and the county council's facilities team were unable to find a cause for the previous incident and declared the building safe, meaning workers returned to work as normal last Monday.

'Really angry'

Zeph Ncube, whose wife is one of the workers taken ill, has criticised the county council for allowing staff to return before the cause of the previous scare had been established.

Speaking from the scene, he said: "I am very worried. Who would not be worried when their wife is undergoing what they are undergoing?

"I am actually really angry. Rather than let the workers come into danger they should have established what the problem was."

He said his wife, who was unaffected during the previous incident, had felt "dizzy" and was suffering breathing problems.

Image caption Staff have been moved out of the building in Colchester while the incident is investigated

Responding to the criticism, a council spokesman said: "Employees returned to the site as usual last Monday after the emergency services declared the building safe over the weekend.

"As well as the emergency services, the building was also thoroughly checked by county council facility management teams before being given a clean bill of health, with facility management representatives remaining on site on Monday.

"We recognise this is the second incident that has occurred at Essex House in the last month.

"Despite the building being handed back to us we see the health and safety of our staff as paramount and have taken the decision to close the building until we can reassure our staff that it is a safe place to work.

"A complete and independent review will now be undertaken."

Arrangements are in place to deal with calls to the council while the Essex House site is out of action.

Headaches and dizziness

The incident is the first emergency the fire service's specialist Detection Identification and Monitoring (DIM) vehicle from Epping has been sent out to.

The fire service said possible causes included a problem with the boiler, which was recently cleaned, or a chemical substance being picked up by the air conditioning system.

Assistant divisional officer Steve Foster told BBC News tests were being carried out and the cause of the illness would not be known until they were completed.

He said it was also unclear whether the two chemical incidents were related.

Firefighters have turned the air conditioning system back on in order to try and recreate the conditions when staff began to feel unwell.

"Whatever the outcome of our investigations the building will be handed back to the council who are responsible for it," he said. "We have requested that no one return to the building for at least 48 hours or until a definitive cause has been established."

Police have closed the road next to the building and the East of England Ambulance service is tending to those affected.

"All 11 casualties, all adults presented with nausea, headaches and dizziness after becoming unwell today," ambulance spokesman Gary Sanderson said. "At present the 11 patients are being assessed by a doctor who is at the scene.

"No-one has been conveyed to hospital."

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