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July 12, 2011

Varian cleared for gas leak; no injuries

An early-morning leak in a 50-pound cylinder of toxic gas forced an evacuation of Varian Semiconductors' Extrion Division early Thursday morning.

But there were no injuries, and Gloucester Firefighters, with help from some the company's gas supplier, contained the leak and disposed of the toxic container after removing it with full dencontamintation precautions from the 35 Dory road facility, fire officials said.

According to Gloucester Deputy Fire Chief Steve Aiello, the Fire Department received a call at 12:45 a.m. Thursday reporting a leak of Boron Trifluoride (BF3) in the building, which is part of the Varian complex in Blackburn Industrial Park.

BF3, according to information posted by Honeywell, is a non-flammable compressed gas packaged and shipped in cylinders under high pressure. It is also one of the strongest known Lewis acids, or electron pair acceptors, and is widely used as an acidic catalyst for organic synthesis reactions.

When emergency crews arrived at 12:50, Neil Tyrell of Varian Extrion reported that a cylinder of BF3 was leaking at the valve stem and Varian personnel could not secure the leak.

Varian personnel had been alerted to the leak after toxic gas detection equipment in the building activated, and workers then evacuated the building.

Varian officials also notified their BF3 supplier, Matheson Gas, and Chemtrec of the leak, according to Aiello's report, and a team of Matheson Gas personnel responded to the scene.

Air monitoring around the exterior of the building determined that none of the gas had escaped the building, Aiello said, while air monitoring inside the building determined that the gas was contained in the room where the leaking cylinder was located.

With that, Aiello said, personnel from the three agencies who were trained in handling hazardous materials incidents then entered the building full Personal Protection Equipment, including self-contained breathing apparatus, to evaluate the leak for mitigation, while a decontamination crew and EMS crew were also established.

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