One burned, 200 evacuated in sodium cyanide explosion

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ATTLEBORO, Mass. -- Chemicals used to clean jewelry exploded Monday at a business that makes gold and silver alloys, burning one person and sending 29 others to hospitals for evaluation.

Employees at Stern-Leach Co. were trying to mix sodium cyanide and hydrogen peroxide solutions totaling about 2 1/2 gallons under a fume hood, said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Company employees routinely mix the chemicals, and there was no immediate explanation for the explosion, Coletta said.

About 200 people evacuated the building afterward. Fire Capt. Tim Birch said the cyanide leak was contained to the third floor of the building.

A 55-year-old man was taken to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence for burns on his upper torso, head and face, Birch said. Twenty-nine people were decontaminated at the scene by hazardous materials crews and taken to hospitals as a precaution, Fire Capt. Keith Jackson said.

Messages left seeking comment from the company were not immediately returned.

Stern-Leach, a division of the British company Cookson Group PLC, makes precious metal alloys for use by jewelry manufacturers, silversmiths, mints and for other applications, according to its website.

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