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What is hydrogen fluoride?

Emergency personnel responded to the Y-12 National Security Complex after sensors indicated a potential release of hydrogen fluoride within a processing enclosure.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Vector symbol of hydrofluoric acid or hydrogen fluoride which consists of hydrogen and fluorine on the background from connected molecules. Illustration is isolated on a white background

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Emergency personnel responded to the Y-12 National Security Complex after sensors indicated a potential release of hydrogen fluoride within a processing enclosure Thursday morning. 

According to a tweet from Y-12, the emergency is under control, and site personnel returned to normal operations.

RELATED: All nuclear material is safe, no injuries after emergency crews respond to Y-12 National Security Complex

So, what is hydrogen fluoride and why did it cause an evacuation at Y-12?

Hydrogen fluoride is a chemical compound that can be a colorless gas or a fuming liquid. It can be dissolved in water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It is used in material production at Y-12, according to the complex's Twitter. 

According to the CDC, hydrogen fluoride goes through skin and tissue quickly and can cause cells to not work properly.

Y-12 was evacuated as a precaution to make sure no one was exposed and to prevent potential hydrogen fluoride poisoning.

The seriousness of poisoning caused by hydrogen fluoride depends on the amount, route, and length of time of exposure, as well as the age and preexisting medical condition of the person exposed, according to the CDC.

The CDC says breathing in hydrogen fluoride can damage lung tissue, and skin contact can cause severe burns and could be fatal. Swallowing only a small amount of highly concentrated hydrogen fluoride will affect major internal organs and may be fatal.

Exposure can also have long-term health effects, according to the CDC

For more information on hydrogen fluoride, see the CDC's website.

Y-12 said no one was injured in the incident, there were no external impacts and all nuclear material is safe.