Cold, water contamination disrupt Intel production

28 Jan 2010

Water contamination and extreme temperatures disrupted production at computer-chip manufacturer Intel in Leixlip, Co Kildare.

The recent cold weather – the result of rapidly falling temperatures, reached -12C at the plant at one point, in what has been described by an Intel Ireland spokesman as a “unique situation” that severely affected the company.

A chronic shortage of rock salt is believed to behind concerns locally that ammonia and nitrates may have contaminated water after local authorities used an agricultural fertiliser to replace the salt component in grit on roads.

Pure water is required for Intel’s manufacturing processes and the company does have its own pumping station on site. It’s not equipped to test for ammonia, however, and water samples had to be sent off-site for analysis.

Several sources confirmed that production at Intel’s Fab-10 plant – an older plant that produces lower-end products such as flash memory – was shut down while the issue was resolved. Intel representatives, however, would not comment on production at the Leixlip plant.

The company brought tankers of water into the site as a contingency plan.

“Keeping production lines running is of paramount importance,” the company spokesman said.

The cost of the contingency plan has not yet been finalised. “Water levels are trending back down to normal,” the spokesman said.

A Kildare County Council spokesman, Charlie Talbot, said Fingal County Council had detected elevated levels of ammonia. Fingal County Council runs the water supply at the Leixlip reservoir. Talbot said corrective measures were taken.

He said the council had used urea on only one night, because it had damaged gritting equipment.

However, he said, it was more likely that the substance appeared in surface water rather than polluting the water table, and any effect would have been “limited”.

Intel employs 4,200 people and is Kildare’s largest employer. The US multinational makes computer chips which are used in 90pc of the world’s PCs.