Chemical leak, not explosion, injures workers

Posted at: 01/31/2014 8:55 AM
Updated at: 01/31/2014 6:19 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - When Albany firefighters arrived at Building 12 on the Harriman State Office Campus Thursday night, they found two workers down, and a huge, 500 pound pressurized container of halon nearby on the back loading dock.

"To a lay person, it could be construed as explosion, but there was NO catastrophic failure of the cylinder itself," said Paul Martin, Chief of Inspections and Investigations at the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services at the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

Martin says during removal from the building, the tank valve was damaged and began to discharged, and unfortunately the two men, Carlton Smith and Michael Lambertsen, who work for a private company, wound up in the inadvertent line of fire suppression.

"Gas, as it's released, is very cold," Martin says, "That resulted in the thermal burns to the (men)."

Because of its cold properties, halon has long been the chemical of choice in fire suppression systems, especially effective in computer room settings.

Ever since the Montreal Protocol in the 1980s, when scientists declared halon a harmful greenhouse gas, detrimental to the ozone layer, there's been a worldwide effort to eliminate its use.

The removal of the tank Thursday night was the last phase of the halon elimination at Building 12, Martin said.

An Office of General Services spokeswoman tells News Channel 13 there are still tanks of helon at other state buildings but she emphasizes they pose no danger to occupants of those buildings.

Both men are expected to recover.

OSHA and New York State Police investigations are continuing.