HAZMAT – North-America – USA

EDIS Number: HZ-20120413-34879-USA
Date / time: 13/04/2012 03:02:29 [UTC]
Area: North-America
Country: USA
State/County: State of Connecticut
Location: Fairfield [515 Commerce Drive]
Number of Deads: N/A
Number of Injured: N/A
Number of Infected: N/A
Number of Missing: N/A
Number of Affected: N/A
Number of Evacuated: N/A
Damage level: Moderate


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 to be wafting from the building just before 10:35 a.m. at 515 Commerce Drive. Anticipating 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. After initial air tests by firefighters revealed no chlorine or other contaminants outside the building, the Fairfield police initiated a reverse 911 call telling area businesses and residents to close doors and windows and "shelter in place," said Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy.

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" Assistant Fire Chief Steve Curry, the incident commander said, "while the rear portion of the building had a visible vapor cloud throughout, it was apparently being scrubbed by the engineered air handling system designed for this purpose," based on metering of the scrubber exhaust stacks. 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. The scene was secured by 6:30 p.m. "There were no injuries, no medical complaints, and no apparent signs of environmental impact from this event," said Curry, who was the last fire department unit to clear the scene at 6:49 p.m. "The quick action and cooperation between company representatives and federal, state and local first responders kept the emergency to a minimum and the incident contained to its building of origin, and a great demonstration of the effectiveness of unified command." During the incident, clouds of white smoke were seen billowing 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.

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