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Irvine : Faulty Meter Triggers Release of Ammonia

A faulty meter triggered a small leak of moderately toxic ammonia Sunday at Diceon Electronics Inc., but Orange County fire officials reported no evacuations or injuries.

Diceon, a major manufacturer of computer circuit boards, was cited June 26 by the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to report the nature and amount of its toxic emissions--requirements of federal law.

Joe McHugh, a director of the Irvine-based firm, said a meter that monitors part of a chemical waste system malfunctioned sometime after 2 a.m., when the last of the plant’s 92 employees left.

When the meter detects certain changes in the composition of the chemicals, it triggers the discharge of anhydrous ammonia to restore the system’s balance, McHugh said.

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County fire officials said the broken meter was connected to a 500-gallon anhydrous ammonia tank, but they could not say how much of the gaseous chemical had leaked.

McHugh estimated that “something less than half our tank” was discharged.

A plant official noticed the odor of ammonia about 6 a.m. and notified the County Fire Department, which dispatched a hazardous materials team to the site.

Twelve firefighters, one engine and one fire truck also were sent to Diceon’s plant in the 16800 block of Hale Avenue--an industrial park near Barranca Parkway and Jamboree Road.

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