They ran from toxic fumes
Some 80 people evacuated after hazardous chemical spill in Woodlands industrial building
He smelled it before he saw it.
The moment the lift doors opened on the sixth storey, the pungent chemical smell hit him.
"My eyes started tearing uncontrollably without me realising why," safety supervisor Mohammed Salleh Jaffar told The New Paper.
Mr Salleh, 65, was not prepared for the chemical onslaught that greeted him.
The tenant who complained to him had only asked him to do him a favour by going up to the sixth storey of Northland Industrial Building 2 in Woodlands where he works.
The favour turned out to be dealing with a hazardous chemical spill, which caused about an evacuation in the building at 3, Woodlands Industrial Park E1.
There were no injuries reported.
TNP understands that the substance spilt was triethylamine. It is considered a hazardous chemical as it can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. (See report above.)
Mr Salleh was at his post at around 10am when the staff member from Blue Moon Engineeringasked him to check on the sixth storey.
Mr Salleh hurried over to security guard Subramaniam Rajarattanam, 55, and they took the lift to the sixth storey.
However, before Mr Salleh could even exit the lift, he found it hard to breathe.
"The smell got stronger with every step I took," said Mr Salleh
The pungent chemical smell was so overpowering that he started to tear.
Mr Subramaniam, even started to feel faint, which is one of the symptoms of acute exposure to the chemical.
Despite his tears, Mr Salleh covered his nose and mouth with a towel, walked towards the spillage and saw a shattered glass bottle on the floor.
He then put up signs and a barricade of cones to prevent entry to Blue Moon Engineering.
He decided to run downstairs because the fumes were overpowering.
"If I had stayed for five minutes longer, I would have collapsed," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Subramaniam, who had been checking for others on the sixth storey, began to feel giddy.
"My legs and hands started shivering. So I forced myself to run all the way down," he said.
He then called the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
The SCDF sent two fire engines, one Red Rhino, three support vehicles and an ambulance to the scene. About 80 people were evacuated from the building.
The spill, measuring 3m by 3m, was contained by SCDF using absorbents and was cleaned up with a hazardous material vacuum machine.
The paramedics also tended to Mr Subramaniam who felt faint because of his high blood pressure. But he did not want to be taken to the hospital.
The National Environment Agency was also at the scene.
Blue Moon Engineering was not available for comment.
If I had stayed for five minutes longer, I would have collapsed.
— Safety supervisor Mohammed Salleh Jaffar (above, left), with security guard Subramaniam Rajarattanam
What is Triethylamine?
Triethylamine is classified as a hazardous chemical by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazard Communication Standard.
It is used in the manufacturing of pesticides and other chemicals.
Dr Jiang Li, manager of the Chemistry Division at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Applied Science, told The New Paper that triethylamine is a highly flammable liquid that is toxic. If it comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns.
A safety data sheet Dr Jiang provided said the chemical, if inhaled, may cause drowsiness or dizziness, and breathing difficulties.
It can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat. If the chemical is inhaled, the person affected should be moved into fresh air and should rest in a comfortable position.