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Santa Rosa Agilent worker burned severely in flash explosion

  • Firefighters take an injured Agilent employee to a waiting ambulance after a flash explosion rocked Building 1 on the Agilent campus in Santa Rosa. (BETH SCHLANKER/THE PRESS DEMOCRAT)

An Agilent Technologies engineer was burned badly Tuesday in a chemical explosion that forced the evacuation of a building at the company's Fountaingrove Parkway campus in Santa Rosa.

Patrick Colbus, 45, a Sonoma State University graduate was in critical condition late Tuesday, said staff at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Colbus, who lives in Santa Rosa, worked in high-tech materials engineering and coating.

“I'm very concerned about him but was comforted hearing that when they transported him he was conscious,” said Saleem Odeh, vice president of sales for the company's electronic measurement group housed in the building. “I'm just praying he's OK.”

Another employee was hurt by a falling object and about 20 others complained of respiratory problems and underwent decontamination procedures after the quick but powerful explosion spewed plumes of smoke that carried a faint chemical smell.

More than 80 people had been under observation as emergency personnel evaluated them for respiratory symptoms. By late afternoon, most had been released to their homes or referred to doctors at Kaiser Medical Center.

Agilent officials late Tuesday said their chemical emergency experts were trying to determine what caused the blast.

“At this point, I have no idea,” Odeh said.

Colbus was alone in the ground-floor lab in the two-story Building 1 at about 10:30 a.m. when the explosion rocked the structure. He had been cleaning a molecular beam epitaxy device, a large piece of equipment used for producing coatings on integrated circuits, officials said.

A combination of substancess, including red and white phosphorous, gallium, aluminum powder and arsenic were involved in the flash explosion that severely burned Colbus' face, head and torso, said Mark Basque, a battalion chief for the Santa Rosa Fire Department. The chemicals are integral to the production of the advanced circuits.

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