Ignored Warning Led to Catastrophe

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 @ 10:11 AM gHale

A crystal manufacturer ignored a warning from a safety auditor the vessels used to make crystals were prone to cracking and they did not meet codes and standards used by state and federal regulators, all of which led to a fatal accident, a federal agency found.

The accident occurred Dec. 7, 2009, when a vessel used to make synthetic quartz ruptured at the NDK Crystal plant in Belvidere, IL. Steel debris blew 650 feet, fatally striking a truck driver who was walking to his vehicle at a gas station oasis on I-90.

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After years of investigating the accident, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued its final report this week. It also offered recommendations for the company should it choose resume operations. They include changes to how to process the product, such as using lower temperatures to make the crystals.

The Board found NDK ignored a warning from a safety auditor years before the fatal accident that the vessels used to make the crystals were prone to cracking.

The investigation also found the vessels did not meet codes and standards used by state and federal regulators.

The crystals see use in making cell phones and wireless devices.

“Three of the key points that came out of our investigation were the lack of a rigorous and robust inspection program, failure to take heed of a warning that was established before the plant was built, and the frequencies of inspections,” said Lead investigator Johnnie Banks.

“We hope operators in the chemical industry take away the clear message that warnings and near misses must be acted on immediately to prevent major accidents,” said CSB investigator Lucy Sciallo-Tyler.

NDK has not resumed operations since the ’09 accident. Company attorney Gary Vist says it’s “not likely” the company will continue to manufacture crystals in Belvidere, but he said the decision is not final. He said if NDK chooses to operate again there are requirements to meet from the Illinois Attorney General. Vist refutes the notion that public safety “fell through the cracks” as suggested by the chair of the safety board.

“For anyone to suggest that somehow safety was compromised or anything was ignored is just irresponsible and preposterous,” Vist said. He said the company will study the Board’s recommendations.

Click here to view a video on the incident.

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