Blasts Rock Moses Lake Airbag Plant
Three explosions in just a month at a Moses Lake airbag propellent manufacturer caused thousands of dollars in damage, but none of the workers there were injured.
Inflation Systems Inc., called Takata Moses Lake Inc. until a year ago, produces the devices which cause automobile airbags to inflate. The biggest explosion happened on May 13, damaging break-away walls and strewing debris over a large area outside the facility.
Two smaller explosions occurred on June 2 and June 4.
“Basically our facilities did what they were supposed to and protected our operators,” said Bill Martin, the company’s plant manager. “There should be no real effect on our customers for our operations.”
Inflation Systems is located on an isolated 375 acres near this central Washington town. Its specially-designed “frangible walls” are designed to break away in the event of an explosion. Workers here operate the machinery - pharmaceutical presses which pack propellent into aspirin-sized capsules - via remote cameras behind a thick concrete barrier because of the mixture’s explosive properties.
But even though danger to employees was minimized by the precautions, Martin and public relations director Paul Jacobson are perplexed by this rash of mishaps.
They said the first explosion may have occurred when a bolt was sheared off a press, creating a spark in the volatile environment. The final two explosions remain a mystery, and an internal investigation continues.
“Obviously, any one of the accidents is a concern,” said Jacobson. “You always look to what you can do to prevent it.”
Inflation Systems has been in Moses Lake for five years, and manufactures the propellent devices for airbags in virtually every make of Japanese automobile and for two German carmakers, BMW and Audi.
A pair of explosions also occurred here in 1993, one in August and another in October.
“I don’t want to say this type of thing is common throughout the industry,” Jacobson said. “But these incidents also happen at other companies. That’s why we go to the safety measures we do.”
No formal safety complaint has been filed against Inflation Systems with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, but spokesperson Brian Dirks said the agency’s explosives investigators may visit the plant this week.
Dirks said his office was notified immediately following each of the incidents.
“It’s our understanding that there was some structural damage, but it’s a remote operation…to minimize the chance of injury,” he said. “We’ve been there in the past, and we probably will go over there in the next week to check with the people, find out what happened, and advise them on it.”