Update, Philadelphia: Plant President Charged in Explosion

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Plant President Charged in Explosion

by TINA MOORE Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Federal authorities charged the president of an industrial plant leveled by a deadly explosion with ignoring several warnings that a process for making an explosive cleaning material for computer chips was unsafe.

The indictment announced Thursday alleged that during a test of the process less than a month before the fatal blast at Concept Sciences Inc., a chemist wrote in a laboratory notebook: ''KABOOM! The distillation from (sample) 005-77 exploded ... Thank God no one got hurt.''

The fatal explosion occurred Feb. 19, 1999, on the first full day of production of the highly concentrated form of hydroxylamine. Four employees and a man working in an adjacent business were killed; two other workers were injured.

U.S. Attorney Michael R. Stiles announced the 12-count indictment charging Irl ''Chip'' Ward, president of CSI of Allentown, with violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

''The reason we bring these charges is to deter other chemical companies from cutting corners,'' Weber said.

The explosion happened in a 2,500-gallon fiberglass reinforced charge tank containing about 750 pounds of hydroxylamine. OSHA could not determine what ignited the tank, since the building was destroyed.

Ward, who was a majority shareholder in the company along with his wife and father, faces a maximum of 24 months in prison, a $3 million fine and one year of probation. He did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office.

''The charges against Dr. Ward are unfounded and unwarranted, and we look forward to defending him and vindicating him,'' said Edward N. Cahn, a Philadelphia attorney representing Ward.

The indictment also alleges that Ward ignored several warnings, including one from Ashland Chemical Company, a potential customer. The company said in a February 1998 report that the chemical ''should not be distilled or heated to dryness yet this is what CSI intends to do,'' that ''the distillation scheme that CSI is planning to use probably will not work,'' and ''this building is not a good location for a chemical process.''

On the evening of the explosion, the indictment charges, a chemist and a supervisor ordered the plant shut down. Ward, however, allegedly said the process should continue, and left for Europe to talk with potential customers.

Families of explosion victims could not be reached by telephone on Thursday.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), November 09, 2000

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