Novartis chemical spill injures 13 near Basel

Six people were rushed to hospital and seven others needed medical attention on Tuesday after a toxic chemical leak at a Novartis plant in the canton of Basel Country.

Novartis chemical spill injures 13 near Basel
Photo: Andrew Hecht

The leak occurred shortly before noon at one of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant’s Schweizerhalle plants in Muttenz, cantonal police said.

Police said according to initial findings a few litres of a caustic liquid chemical spilled, releasing a gas that irritates the mucous membranes.

The six hospitalized people, five workers from an outside cleaning company and a Novartis employee, complained of a severe cough, police said.

Three of them were released from hospital within hours, while another seven people were medically treated on site.

The environment outside the production building was never threatened and the affected buildings were “vented” and returned to normal conditions, police said.

An investigation has been launched in to the cause of the spill.

In a statement police explained that in the canton of Basel Country, cantonal authorities exclusively provide information to the public on chemical spills.

According to the policy, Novartis cannot publicly comment on the incident.

The spill took place in the Schweizerhalle industrial area that straddles the adjoining municipalities of Muttenz and Pratteln.

The area is famous for being the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in recent European history.

In 1986, 1,351 tonnes of chemicals burned at a plant owned by Sandoz, which later created Novartis when it merged with Ciba-Geigy.

While people suffered no serious ill-effects from the fire, resulting toxic pollution that led to a devastating fish kill in the Rhine River took more than 10 years to clean up.

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Switzerland’s Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis said Friday it had signed an initial agreement to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, as countries scramble to boost supplies.

Switzerland's Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine
Novartis will help manufacture Pfizer vaccine. Photo by AFP.

The rare act of cooperation — in an industry usually marked by cut-throat competition — comes after French pharma group Sanofi announced earlier this week that it would also team up with rivals Pfizer and BioNTech to help produce 125 million doses of their jab.

The two-dose vaccine, which is based on mRNA technology, has been shown to be around 95 percent effective and has been approved for use by the World Health Organization and in some 50 countries.

But it is in limited supply as nations around the world race to immunise their populations against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 2.2 million people in just over a year.

Novartis said in a statement that it would use its sterilised manufacturing facilities at its site in Stein, Switzerland to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

Under the agreement, the company said it would “take bulk mRNA active ingredient from BioNTech and fill this into vials under aseptic conditions for shipment back to BioNTech for their distribution to healthcare system customers around the world”.

Once a final agreement is reached, Novartis said it expected to begin production in the second quarter of the year, with initial shipment of finished product expected in the third quarter.

Steffen Lang, Head of Novartis Technical Operations, stressed that the company was “committed to leverage our manufacturing capabilities to help support the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world”.

“We expect this to be the first of a number of such agreements,” he said in the statement.

Novartis said it was already in “advanced discussions” with a number of other companies about with other production tasks, including of mRNA, therapeutic protein and raw material production for Covid vaccines and therapeutics.