HUNDREDS of people were evacuated, some suffering breathing difficulties, after a mysterious chemical leak at the city’s tax office on Wednesday afternoon.
The city went into red alert as more than 100 police, firefighters and ambulance workers rushed to Bowback house in Silbury Boulevard.
Workers had complained of an strong ammonia-like smell , causing breathing difficulties and itchy eyes. It is understood the unknown chemical was circulating through the air conditioning system.
At first there were fears that a dangerous chemical had been planted into the building in a “grievance attack.”
Later it was suspected the cause was natural – but experts were still struggling to identify the problem.
Paramedics set up special treatment areas and 20 inland Revenue workers, 16 female and four male, were given oxygen and treated for respiratory problems. It is understood some needed hospital treatment.
The emergency services hastily rigged up a decontamination tent and shelters for frightened workers.
Bowback House, which deals with tax demands for thousands of city residents, was sealed off and hundreds of people were trapped in surrounding buildings as the area was quarantined.
Eyewitness Lee Knight, who works opposite in Matrix House, was told , along with his 50 colleagues, to remain in their building while tests were carried out.
He said: “We were told it was a problem with the air conditioning, but we were told to remain in the building. People were taken away in ambulances. We were told that fire teams were being called in from Aylesbury and that we had to be prepared to evacuate the building quickly.”
Firefighters entered the building wearing specialist breathing equipment but it is understood they were unable to identify the fumes.
As the Citizen went to press, the fire service specialist detection unit arrived and searches were being carried out in the plant room area of the building.
One nearby worker said: “These buildings are built in the modern way with lots of cavities and a huge amount of space in which a chemical can circulate.
“It is an incredibly strange situation and I think everybody will feel easier when the fumes are identified and explained.”
A police spokesman said: “Emergency services are at the scene of an incident at the Inland Revenue offices in Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes. Staff working inside the building reported a strange smell earlier this afternoon and subsequently several people developed breathing difficulties.
“The building was evacuated and a cordon has been put in place around the building. There are road closures in place to protect the public and allow the emergency services to continue working at the scene.
“All three emergency services remain at the scene and investigations are ongoing to establish the cause of the incident.”
To keep abreast of the tax office crisis, visit the Citizen website www.miltonkeynes.co.uk.