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The Day They Shut Down Intel



The Day They Shut Down Intel
Chipmaker Intel had just started up a new chip factory when something odd caused a shut down. What lead to this development?
Mysteries of Science

Transcript


Giant chip maker Intel had just started a new chip factory in the Phoenix Arizona region as part of a plan to locate beyond Silicon Valley. A large plot of land had been purchased at a time when desert land was still relatively cheap.

Although semiconductor chip manufacturing begins with silicon, many exotic and highly hazardous chemicals are used throughout the process. Several are volatile liquids and gases that could raise havoc if something went wrong, and they escaped into the building or surrounding areas.

The semiconductor industry is well aware of the significant hazards during processing including arsenic compounds. This plant, like other fab plants, went to extreme safety measures.

There were chemical sensors everywhere, and any gas release would trigger alarms, and swift evacuation.

Safety classes were being held for new employees as part of the standard indoctrination. The day's topic was gas handling and safety. The instructor pointed out that sensitive monitors were constantly sniffing for gas leaks, but the human nose was still one of the best.

He went on to say that even though the human nose ran a poor second to a dog, it was still sensitive even down to less than one part per million, to pick out odors of some of the materials used in the plant. Not all gases could be smelled, including carbon monoxide, but many could be detected near or below lethal threshold, and your noise could save your life.

One of the more toxic materials was arsine, the most poisonous form of arsenic. When the instructor advised that one might die from arsine without noticing it, chances are that someone would smell it before it killed.

Arsine would smell like garlic, so it should be easy to detect inside the factory where no food was allowed, and the air was super-cleaned. At about the time when everyone was wondering what to do if they smelled arsine, a few began to notice a light garlic smell. The smell became stronger. There was the start of a panic.

The instructor had a concerned look but cautioned everyone to be calm. Then he asked, "They grew garlic where I came from in California, do any of you know if they grow it here?" No one was sure, but before there was any more discussion, the evacuation alarm went off.

The whole building was evacuated, and the suited up Hazmat Teams were sent in to find the cause. The safety class was convinced their time had come after listening to the instructor's stories about gas poisoning, but after searching for hours, the hazards team could not find the source of the offending odor.

Here's the rest of the story.

With all the workers waiting outside of the building complaining about the smell, one of them asked to talk to the safety director. "Thought I should mention that my dad is harvesting onions in the field over there."

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