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Part of Texas city evacuated due to leak at Bayer chemical plant

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Several hundred people have been evacuated from a section of Lubbock, Texas, after a leaking tank released a chemical that could turn into highly corrosive hydrochloric acid, the city's Fire Department said on Thursday.

No injuries were reported after emergency officials set up a 4-mile-wide (6.4-km-wide) exclusion zone in a sparsely populated area northeast of the city to allow a specialized team from Dallas to transfer the chemical from a cracked 3,000 pound (1361 kg) tank into a new vessel.

The incident occurred at Bayer Crop Science facility. Bayer Crop Science is a unit of Bayer AG.

The tank contained hydrogen chloride, which reacts with moisture in the atmosphere to form hydrochloric acid when released, the fire department said.

"If you are outside the triangle, you are fine," Lubbock Firefighter Asa Rutherford said on the department's official Facebook page. "They can stop it from spreading and it won't carry into the air to contaminate other areas.

Several families with homes near the plant had to be evacuated before dawn this morning, as emergency crews used reverse 9-1-1 systems to alert them. An elementary school in the area canceled classes on Thursday.

The cylinder in question was on a trailer in a secure area of the plant when an alarm sounded on Wednesday night, said Monty Christian, a vice president with Bayer Crop Science.

"We had people suit up and go in there with handheld monitors and they determined that the level of gas was higher than it should be, so we notified authorities," Christian said.

He said the company did not yet know what caused the leak.

The Texas Poison Control Center said the chemical could lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat if people come into contact with it or inhale it.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Carol Bishopric)