Processing Magazine

Nitrogen leak at Intel plant sickens 43 workers

July 2, 2013
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock
Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

A nitrogen leak at an Intel plant in Arizona has led to the hospitalization of 11 people, with a total of 43 needing medical treatment on site on Saturday morning.

The victims suffered nausea, difficulty in breathing and skin and eye irritation. None of those affected by the nitrogen leak were in a serious condition and their injuries were not life-threatening, the Huffington Post reported. According to reports, the victims are all contract workers at the facility.

The gas leak occurred early on June 29 at Intel's second-largest facility, located in Chandler, about 25 miles east of Phoenix.

Although initially there were plans to evacuate the neighboring area, the Chandler Fire Department eventually decided against it. Fire crews managed to find the source of the leak and secured it, according to Tom Dwiggins, a spokesman for the Chandler Fire Department. He stated that there were no traces of the gas in the air inside the building or outside the structure, so adjacent areas were not at risk.

An investigation into the incident was started immediately, but as yet there is no official information on what may have caused the leak. According to Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy there is no danger of a similar occurrence happening now, as the equipment has been taken offline. Operations at the plant have resumed, despite the ongoing investigation, Mulloy added.

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The Intel facility was built last year and is claimed to be the largest employer in Chandler, with as many as 11,000 people working there. The plant covers a total area of 285,000 square feet and consists of two semiconductor manufacturing facilities. According to Intel's website the company is in the process of building a third facility, due to be open by the end of this year. Jason Bagely, a government affairs director for the company, stated that the incident would have no impact on Intel's operations, since works carried out in the plant have already been moved to another facility.

Nitrogen is used in the process of manufacturing chips, along with other gases, which are part of the dry-etching process that make the chips very thin. The facility produces silicon wafers that are used to make semiconductors for computers. Components are made on the 12-inch silicon wafers, which are later cut into separate components. Each component can contain more than a billion transistors, Mulloy explained.

Intel is the world's largest producer of computer chips and also has facilities in Oregon and New Mexico, as well as in Ireland, Israel and China.