GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 12, 2011

Varian cleared for gas leak; no injuries

By Times Staff

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.

"Upon assessment by the entry team, it was determined that the leaking cylinder could readily be removed from the building to mitigate the incident," Aiello said.

The crew made re-entry into the building with a containment vessel supplied by Matheson Gas. The leaking cylinder was disconnected from its application, a cap was placed over the leaking stem, and the cylinder was placed into the containment vessel.

The containment vessel was removed from the building and loaded onto a Matheson Gas truck for removal from the premises.

Aiello said that, in addition to there being no injuries, no Varian employees were exposed to the gas, and there was no indication there were any disruptions in Varian operations later Thursday.

The crews who entered the building, however, were decontaminated and, after a short debriefing, Matheson Gas and the Gloucester Fire Department officials cleared the scene shortly before 3 a.m., Aiello said.