Bit Tech reports 43 workers at Intel's Fab 32 in Arizona were exposed to a nitrogen trifluoride leak. The leak reportedly originated from the failure of an O-ring in the gas exhaust system that should pipe the gas out of the facility, with the result that nitrogen trifluoride was vented into the plant itself. Twelve employees were hospitalized, but none of the injuries are being reported as life-threatening.
Intel's two campuses in Chandler, Arizona combine to form the company's second-biggest facility in North America. The company has expanded its fabrication operations in Arizona over the years to the point where it employs an impressive 11,000 people and has a third manufacturing plant under construction at the site. The leak is reported to have occurred at Fab 32, which was Intel's first plant to mass-produce chips on a 45nm process node.
During use in plasma etching, nitrogen trifluoride breaks down into fluorine and nitrogen - the former of which acts as an active etching agent. Fluorine gas, which can be released as a by-product of the etching process, is extremely hazardous: concentrations above 25 parts per million (PPM) are high enough to cause significant irritation to the eyes, respiratory tract, lungs, liver and kidneys, while concentrations above 100PPM cause potentially fatal damage. Thus far, it is not clear whether the leak was of fluorine gas mixed with nitrogen trifluoride, or just nitrogen trifluoride. The latter by itself is much less irritating, but can lead to a potentially serious condition known as methemoglobinemia in high concentrations.
It's the third time this decade that Intel's Fab 32 suffers from employee safety concerns. Back in 2011 seven workers were injured in a solvent fire, and later that same year a further eight suffered smoke inhalation with construction work caused a plastics fire.