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Area Evacuated After Ammonia Gas Leak

By Andrew A. Green

An ammonia leak in the refrigeration system of the Haviland Candy factory forced the evacuation of homes in the area and the closing of several streets, limiting access to the Cambridgeside Galleria on Saturday afternoon.

According to Deputy Chief John J. O'Donoghue of the Cambridge Fire Department, the leak began in a pump in the basement of the building and spread upwards.

O'Donoghue said no lives were endangered by the leak, the smell of which was obvious to all those affected.

"Ammonia tends to drive people away," he said. "When it comes you usually don't have to tell people to leave. They tend to run in front of it."

The fire department arrived on the scene at about 2:30 p.m., and evacuated the building and several houses around the area and closed the streets around the building including the street on the south side of the Cambridgeside Galleria. The Galleria itself was not evacuated.

"We didn't close the streets on the other side because the wind was taking care of the vapors pretty well," O'Donoghue said.

In order to contain the leak, the Fire Department cut off the ammonia feed to the factory's refrigeration system in the basement.

"It's a pressure-vacuum system," O'Donoghue said. "Once you shut off the pressure at the source, the vacuum at the top of the building sucks the gas out. It takes about a half-hour."

After the leak was stopped and the system flushed, the vapors had to be pumped out of the building. The whole process was finished by 6:30 p.m., O'Donoghue said.

"If you're not familiar with the building, it's quite large," O'Donoghue said. "It's probably six or seven stories and 100 feet by 50 feet. It's quite a big building."

Once the Fire Department contained the leak and dispersed the vapor, maintenance workers for Haviland Candy set to work fixing the source of the leak, O'Donoghue said.

Representatives of Haviland Candy. Inc. and its parent company Necco were unavailable for comment yesterday.

This sort of leak is not uncommon in industry in this area, O'Donoghue explained.

"This can happen in industry that requires refrigeration, like candy factories or skating rinks," he said.

Only about 75 people had to be evacusted from their homes on Saturday afternoon, O'Donoghue said.

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