German Chemical Plant Explosion Claims 2 Lives, 5 Still Missing and Presumed Dead, Dozens Injured

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General view of the Bayer Chemical Plant on July 27, 2021 in Leverkusen, Germany. Chempark houses chemical giant Bayer, the company that founded the football team, by employees of the pharmaceutical firm.
General view of the Bayer Chemical Plant on July 27, 2021 in Leverkusen, Germany. Chempark houses chemical giant Bayer, the company that founded the football team, by employees of the pharmaceutical firm. (Image: Lukas Schulze via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, July 27, an explosion at the Chempark industrial park, operated by Currenta and located in Leverkusen, Germany, tore through the complex. At least two employees were killed, and dozens of others were injured, one in critical condition. Five employees remain missing and are presumed dead, the Associated Press (AP) reported. 

The explosion occurred at a waste management facility in the Chempark site, sending a massive black cloud into the sky and sparking a fire that took firefighters upwards of four hours to extinguish.

It appears as though the blast is linked to storage tanks on the site that were filled with solvents. German broadcaster ZDF quoted local fire services as saying that the incident may have been caused by a gas explosion at the plant’s waste disposal site, investing.com reported. 

Four Currenta employees and one outside contractor remain missing. The CEO of Currenta, Frank Hyldmar, told reporters in Leverkusen, “we have to assume that the missing people can no longer be found alive,” adding that of the 31 injured, one person remains in a life-threatening condition in a hospital.

Rescue teams were dispatched on Wednesday, July 28 to find the five missing workers.

Local police told German news agency DPA that a thorough investigation into the cause of the explosion was scheduled to begin on Thursday, July 29.

Community warned to stay inside

The plume of thick black smoke prompted authorities to order Leverkusen residents to stay indoors, and several major highways in the area were shut down for hours. City officials warned people to not allow their children to play outside or eat any fruits or vegetables from their gardens for the next few days.

Leverkusen is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia that is home to about 161,000 inhabitants. The city is known for being home to the Currenta plant run by pharmaceutical giant Bayer, one of the largest employers in the region.

The smoke is suspected of containing numerous chemicals, including dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and furan compounds.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxins and furans are “highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.”

PCBs are a group of man-made organic chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms. “PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until manufacturing was banned in 1979,” the EPA states on its website.

While the commercial manufacturing of PCBs has been banned in the United States, they can still be inadvertently created through numerous manufacturing processes, which is allowed in some circumstances depending on local regulations.

Bayer’s stock plummets

Bayer’s (OTC:BAYRY) stock plummeted following the explosion. By mid-morning the day of the explosion, the stock had slumped by 2.3%, becoming the worst performer in the Deutscher Aktien Index (DAX). 

Bayer was once one of the most valuable companies in Europe but has seen its stock fall by nearly two-thirds since it announced that it would be acquiring U.S. crop sciences company Monsanto (NYSE:MON).

The acquisition exposed the company to billions of dollars in compensation claims by those who had suffered side effects from its Roundup weed-killer.