STA, 12 May 2022 - More than twenty people were injured in an explosion and fire that broke out at the chemical factory Melamin in Kočevje in southern Slovenia this morning. Two sustained severe burns and several persons are still missing. According to Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, the fire has now been put out and dangerous substances contained.
Locals are still being urged to remain indoors and not to approach the site, where the emergency intervention is running smoothly, according to the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief.
Commander of the Kočevje fire brigade Leon Behin told the press that all firefighters from Kočevje, and the near-by Osilnica and Kostel had been activated, 150 in total. No firefighter has been injured.
Ekipa N1 je v Kočevju, kjer je zjutraj v kemični tovarni Melamin odjeknila močna eksplozija. Zrak je nasičen s črnim in gostim dimom. pic.twitter.com/aJz0LPSrtg— N1 Slovenija (@n1slovenija) May 12, 2022
They managed to contain the fire and dangerous substances. Only an electric power station room is still on fire, because it cannot be approached, and this is what is still causing black smoke, said Mayor Vladimir Prebelič, adding that measurements of substances in the smoke were being conducted and were thought not to be dangerous.
Drinking water has not been contaminated, he said.
The ELME ecological lab with a mobile unit from the Jožef Stefan Institute has been activated along with Environment Agency and inspection services, which are also conducting measurements.
Behin said no toxic substances (bar in the smoke) had been released into the environment.
A military unit was also activated, decontamination activities are under way, and all relevant services in the country have been informed of the incident, he said.
"A more than serious event has occurred, but the situation is under control," he told the press.
Behin told Radio Slovenija earlier that all injured persons had been attended to and two persons with severe burns had been transported to the UKC Ljubljana hospital by helicopter.
The hospital said on Twitter it had activated a mass casualty incident protocol.
Web portal 24ur.com reports that four persons are still missing, as it is not clear whether they were in the facility at the time of the explosion, but they are not employees. Behin said that the search for them continued but that a certain container could not be accessed because of high temperatures.
He said the explosion had happened in a cistern and the fire had spread from there but its further spreading to other storage facilities of hazardous substances had been prevented. The investigation into the cause of the explosion is under way.
The Melamin building is badly damaged and the explosion also caused window cracks on near-by buildings.
The main road in Kočevje is still closed and all events planned in the town for today have been cancelled.
Melamin is classified as a facility of greater risk for the environment under environmental legislation. The company, which is one of the largest employers in the region, produces mostly resins for paints and varnishes for the wood, construction and textile industry.
At the end of 2021, the company employed just more than 190 people. In 2021, the company generated EUR 67.3 million in sales revenue, 41% more than the year before. Net profit was up by 26% to just under EUR 3.3 million.
Melamin owns two-thirds of SmartMelamine, which it founded in 2015 with a German company Ostthüringische Materialprüfgesellschaft für Textill und Kunststoffe, which specialises in production of highly resistant melamine fleece and is also based in Kočevje.
Given the number of injured, this is the worst industrial fire in Slovenia's recent history. As many as 17 industrial fires have been recorded since 1995, resulting mostly in material damage.