A government investigation says a synthetic crystal manufacturer ignored warnings by a safety auditor, and that led to an explosion that killed one person and has kept the facility closed for almost four years.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has released its report on the Dec. 7, 2009, explosion at NDK Crystal in Belvidere, IL. The CSB says corrosion in the walls of a pressure vessel went uninspected for years.
The violent rupture in the vessel blew a piece of steel from the building 650 feet, striking a truck driver who was walking back to his vehicle at a nearby gas station on the Illinois Tollway.
A vessel fragment weighing more than 8,000 pounds tore through a wall at the gas station, skipped across a parking lot and struck the wall of an automotive supply company where 70 people were working. No one was injured at the auto supply location.
The CSB investigation found NDK ignored a direct warning by a third-party safety auditor called in by its insurance carrier following an uncontrolled leak of caustic material in January 2007. The consultant determined four vessels were experiencing stress corrosion cracking and advised against returning any of the facility’s eight vessels into service.
The consultant specifically warned about the possibility of “far more catastrophic scenarios,” specifically naming danger of public death or injury at the nearby gas station where the truck driver was killed.
NDK didn’t test the vessels before returning them to service, according to the CSB.
The report also states the Illinois Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Safety didn’t conduct internal inspections of NDK’s vessels. The state conducted an inspection less than three months before the fatal explosion, but it only addressed external vessel surfaces.
There also seems to be questions about location of NDK’s facility so close to the Illinois Tollway rest area and other nearby businesses. The property was zoned for light industrial. NDK should have been considered heavy industrial.
Previously, OSHA issued $510,000 in fines against NDK. The case was settled for $180,000. OSHA had issued seven willful citations to NDK, including one for failure to implement a hazard communication program.
The Belvidere NDK facility hasn’t reopened since the explosion.