HOPEWELL JUNCTION — A baseball-sized clump of a potentially dangerous chemical was released last month at a local manufacturing plant, worrying employees whose cars were covered by the chemical.
The “spill” happened on July 7 at the East Fishkill IBM and Philips Semiconductor campus, according to internal documents from IBM and Philips. About 80 cars belonging to employees of Philips and IBM were coated with the chemical compound.
Early in the afternoon that day, “some of our IBM employees reported a powdery material found on their cars which were parked on the west side of Building 322,” according to an internal memo to IBM managers from Hank DiMarco, an IBM senior location executive.
Some employees have said they’re concerned about the chemical, which causes symptoms ranging from respiratory problems to internal bleeding, but would not speak on the record.
An initial test by Philips “did not reveal any health or safety concerns,” DiMarco wrote in his memo, but employees were given a contact at IBM’s “Global Well-being Services” if they had concerns.
The chemical was re-leased during a maintenance project on exhaust ducts in the Philips manufacturing plant, Philips spokesman Paul Morrison said.
“This chemical is a byproduct of the manufacturing process, which builds up in exhaust ducts. As part of this routine maintenance, a motor was replaced on an air handler, and the exhaust ducts were also being cleaned,” Morrison said. “When the air handler was turned back on, a small amount of the buildup that was dislodged in the cleaning process, was blown into the atmosphere, covering a small section of the parking lot.”
The released chemical was ammonium hexafluorosilicate, also called ammonium fluorosilicate, Morrison said. According to a “Material Safety Data Sheet” by a fluoride company, exposure through the air can lead to symptoms ranging from mild — like coughing and difficulty breathing — to severe in larger doses, including skin irritation and burns, internal bleeding and, in the highest doses, death.
The amount released at Philips was “far below reportable levels,” Morrison said. The company did
not notify the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the Dutchess County Department of Health, but both agencies were alerted when an anonymous caller reported the incident two weeks later.
The DEC’s Division of Air contacted Philips, which reported that the released amount was “less than a cupful,” said Wendy Rosenbach, a DEC spokeswoman.
The DEC has closed its investigation.
“We didn’t go to investigate it because it had been several weeks since it had been cleaned up,” she said. “We don’t have any environmental concerns at this point because of that.”
Reportable amount unclear
There is some confusion about how much ammonium fluorosilicate constitutes “report-able levels.” Morrison did not say exactly how much was released, and the DEC could not say how much of the chemical would need to be released before it was considered an environmental hazard.
The county health department hasn’t received complaints about exposure to the chemical, said Rich Robbins, associate public health sanitarian.
The Philips spokesman did not know what, if any, cleanup efforts were used.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ammonium fluorosilicate should be disposed of by trained workers in protective suits and breathing apparatus, and it should be removed “in a clean, dry container.”
Ammonium fluorosilicate, also called ammonium hexafluorosilicate, is a chemical compound belonging to the “inorganic fluoride” chemical family.
Ammonium fluorosilicate can come as a liquid or as an odorless powder, and is primarily used for industrial applications.
Inhalation, skin and eye contact can produce a variety of symptoms, ranging from respiratory problems and skin burns to internal bleeding, according to the chemical’s Material Data Safety Sheet. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends immediate medical attention for those who are exposed to the chemical.
Nik Bonopartis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org