Fears thousands of Covid tests could be delayed as Leamington Spa mega lab evacuated after huge blaze nearby

THOUSANDS of Covid tests may have been delayed by an explosion near a "mega lab" today, it is feared.

A huge fire broke out in a timber yard near to a major testing facility in Leamington Spa – forcing the staff to evacuate.

Workers in the Rosalind Franklin lab, which processes thousands of Covid swabs each day, downed tools and rushed to safety following the fireball this afternoon.

Testing was halted as fire crews dealt with the blaze and a search continued to find a missing person.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Staff at the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory have been evacuated as a precautionary measure and all emergency incident protocols are being followed in order to protect their safety.

“We continue to work closely with the fire and emergency services on this ongoing incident and testing will resume as soon as it’s safe to do so.”  

They process PCR swabs, used by people suffering with Covid symptoms.

Due to the evacuation a backlog is likely, as people anxious to know if they have the virus await their results.

The hub was cleared after black smoke billowed from the warehouse next door – amid claims the toxic-smelling plumes made locals vomit.

Black polystyrene rained down on homes and could be seen for more than 20 miles after the explosion.

People living closest have been evacuated – and cops say one person is still "unaccounted for".

Cops evacuated those living nearest the blaze and warned others to stay indoors with their windows shut.

Firefighters say members of the public must keep at least 100 metres away.

A resident said the sound of the explosions was like "a bomb going off".

Stephen Morris, 48, said: "I've never seen anything like it in my life. We were in the garden earlier and heard what sounded like a bomb go off.

"It was like a loud pop. The next thing you know, there's a massive cloud of black smoke rising into the sky."

Public Health West Mids has issued advice to residents as the fire continues to burn through the industrial site.

Officials say: "People in areas affected by smoke from the fire should stay indoors, keep doors and windows closed and check the local radio for advice.

"Motorists should keep their windows closed, turn on air con and keep air vents closed."

They also advised local residents to limit their time outdoors in the area as smoke and ash fill the air. 

Why has the lab been evacuated and locals told to stay inside?

Mr Tony Ennis, Director of HAZTECH Consultants Ltd, said: Polyurethanes are a very common group of polymers made from combinations of various alcohols and isocyanates. When exposed to heat, Polyurethanes typically start to decompose at approximately 280°C with the decomposition products dependent on temperature. Note that fire temperatures may reach over 800°C.

“Polyurethane fires can generate cyanide gas as a by-product of combustion plus carbon monoxide (also toxic) and a number of other potentially toxic substances including acetonitrile, acrylonitrile, pyridine, and benzonitrile and carbon soot due to incomplete combustion. The combination of materials produced will be dependent on both the type of polyurethane and the temperature. In addition to combustion by-products, the heat will cause thermal decomposition into various other materials including ammonia, benzene, toluene and other aromatic ring molecules.

“The combination of toxins in the smoke plume may cause distress, particularly to anyone who has existing lung or breathing complaints."

Officials said: "Substances in smoke can worsen health problems like asthma and heart conditions, so people should carry their medication if near the fire in Leamington Spa.

"Smoke can irritate airways, skin and eyes and cause coughing and wheezing, breathlessness and chest pain. Get medical advice if affected."

A spokesman for Warwickshire Police said: "Emergency services are currently in attendance at a fire at a premises in Juno Drive, Leamington.

"Road closures are currently in place. Please keep windows and doors closed."

West Midlands Ambulance Service said: "We received a call to a significant fire on Juno Drive in Leamington Spa at 10.38am.

"We currently have two paramedic officers and Hazardous Area Response Team at the scene.

"If you live within 70 metres of the site, please keep windows and doors closed."

They added: "This is an industrial premise approximately 50m x 30m and well alight. We have multiple appliances in attendance, including 12 pumps and two aerial appliances.

"We will issue updates as we get the information from fire control who are busy dealing with the incident."

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