6 hospitalized as Novartis manufacturing stumbles again

In another black eye for the manufacturing side of Novartis ($NVS), 6 people had to be hospitalized after inhaling corrosive chemicals from a leak at a plant in Switzerland.

The leak occurred at a production plant near Basel where Novartis makes its blockbuster blood pressure drug Diovan. Police said a few liters of a caustic liquid chemical were spilt, The Local reports, and 13 people who inhaled the fumes needed medical attention. Three of the people who went to a hospital were released within hours. After the spill was reported, the affected areas were vented and returned to normal conditions. No areas outside the plant were affected, local police said.

Staff from an external cleaning company were on site at the time of the spill. Of the 6 people who were taken to a hospital, 5 were from the cleaning company. Novartis is yet to comment publicly on the incident, and is limited in what it can say by a local law that restricts who can report details of chemical spills. Local authorities wield that power exclusively.

The site where the spill took place--in an industrial area called Schweizerhalle--is infamous for a 1986 event that is regarded as among the worst environmental disasters in Europe. On that day, an agrochemical storehouse operated by Sandoz, now part of Novartis, caught fire. That led to the nearby Rhine river turning red with pollutants. The pollution was blamed for a massive loss of wildlife downstream from the fire.

While nothing like the 1986 disaster, the chemical leak is another negative in what has been a miserable year for manufacturing at Novartis. The run began with an FDA warning letter a year ago. And continued with the ongoing problems at a Nebraska plant. A brief ban on the sale of Novartis' flu vaccines in some countries two months ago was another distraction.

- here's The Local's article
- read Reuters' take