Chemical reaction at Fairfield factory forces evacuation [Connecticut Post, Bridgeport]
(Connecticut Post (Bridgeport) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 12--FAIRFIELD -- A chlorine-based chemical was released from a Commerce Drive metal-processing business Thursday morning, triggering a hazmat response by emergency services, forcing the building to be evacuated and shutting down several nearby roads.
There were a few tense moments immediately after fumes were first reported at 10:35 a.m. to be wafting from the building at 515 Commerce Drive. Assuming the fumes could be toxic, fire officials took precautions and ordered people out of the area.
But less than an hour later, Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid said the fumes from processing the chemical, gallium trichloride, were not considered toxic because of the small amounts released.
The incident took place at 5NPlus, a custom manufacturer of metals previously known as Metalspecialties, at 515 Commerce Drive.
"There was an over-pressurization of this chemical, and when this situation occurs it releases the excess into the atmosphere. It is an intentional process and last done last year," Reid said. "They are working at this time to cut it off and hope to have that done within an hour."
Roger Ngassan, general manager at 5NPlus, said as soon as the alarm sounded, employees left the building, as called for in the company's safety plan. It worked, he said, "perfectly."
"Everybody is accounted for and our people are collaborating with the Fire Department," said Marc Suys, vice president for corporate affairs and co-founder of the business. "What we understand is there must have been a failure of one of the reactors where we were manufacturing gallium trichloride."
Gallium trichloride is manufactured by 5NPlus for use in making light-emitting diodes. The chemical, as a raw material, is also used in the production of metallic gallium and in the processing of mono crystal semiconductor compounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration.
A cloud formed as the chemical's fumes were vented Thursday morning. "It's too early to tell what happened," Suys said later. "It's not supposed to vent a fume"
While the release could cause eye irritation, it was not considered toxic. However hazmat teams from Fairfield and Norwalk, as well as the Fairfield County team, were dispatched to the scene and firefighters entering the building were dressed in protective suits. Firefighters were decontaminated at the scene once they emerged from the building and several ambulance crews were standing by.
However, there were no reported injuries and no one was hospitalized.
Clouds of white smoke were seen billowing in the air over the area near the town's southeastern border with Bridgeport. The B.J.'s Wholesale Club, several nearby businesses and homes were evacuated. Black Rock Turnpike and Commerce Drive were closed to traffic and pedestrians.
Reid said Fairfield fire officials did not order evacuation of neighboring buildings and homes, but did issue a reverse 911 call, alerting them to the incident and recommending they stay indoors. "We have a protocol in place," he said of reacting to emergencies.
People were blocked from entering the area and those already on the scene were told to stay inside or vehicles.
Metro-North trains were ordered not to stop at the nearby Fairfield Metro train station until firefighters clear the area.
A worker art Master Electric Supply on Commerce Drive, who answered the phone, said the business remained opened even though a hazardous situation prompted evacuations in the area. "They blocked the Fairfield side, not the Bridgeport side," she said. "We have not seen any fire trucks. Nothing."
Bigelow Tea's headquarters building on lower Black Rock Turnpike was also contacted by police, but not evacuated. "We have one heck of an amazing town," said Cindi Bigelow, president of Bigelow Tea. "They have contacted us in every which way to tell us about what's happening down on the corner and to ensure we were protected."
Bigelow said officials from the town advised employees to stay indoors until getting an all clear, but she noted some employees were outside when it was first happening and they've reported no problems.
"We're fine and we're in good hands," she said.
Staff at Domestic Kitchens at 555 Commerce Drive, were ordered out of the building immediately, giving them no time to lock the doors.
According to 5NPlus's web site, the company is a manufacturer of metals and chemicals including cadmium, indium, gallium, germanium, selenium and tellurium, in commercial and high purity grades in ingot, shot and powder forms. It also manufactures products for electronics and recycles scrap metal.
The company was founded in 1970 and has between 10 and 49 employees.
A similar incident occurred last August when smoke was seen billowing from the building from an apparent chemical reaction among the various materials used at the business. In the August incident, a firefighter was treated for minor exposure to the chemical fumes.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that anyone involved in working with gallium trichloride undergo periodic medical examinations to check on the liver, respiratory organs and skin. Exposure to gallium trichloride could produce wheezing, coughing, itching throat, labored breathing, a sense of suffocation, and burning chest pain. Severe exposure can cause a blue tint to the skin and mucous membranes, swelling of the larynx and respiratory arrest. Symptoms can also include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody stools.
(c)2012 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)
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