Board Finds Safety "Fell Through The Cracks" In '09 Explosion

Nov 14, 2013

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

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

The Board found that 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 are commonly sold to make cell phones and wireless devices.

Lead investigator Johnnie Banks says members of the board believe the accident was preventable.

"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 Banks.

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 says the decision is not final. He says 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 says the company will study the Board's recommendations.