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Four injured in explosion at air-bag manufacturing plant

December 18, 1996

MESA, Ariz. (AP) _ An explosion and fire early today injured four people, one seriously, at a problem-plagued plant that manufactures air bags.

An automatic sprinkler system put out the fire that broke out about 3 a.m. at the TRW plant on Germann Road, one of the company’s two air-bag plants in Mesa. The plant has been shut down twice for previous fires and explosions.

The location was an area where finished propellant grains are loaded into inflator bodies, said Frank Mortelliti, TRW’s director of regulatory affairs.

``This is very unexpected because it was not in an area where propellant is mixed,″ Mortelliti said. ``Finished grains aren’t as sensitive.″

The fire caused minimal damage, he said. The chemical that burned was sodium azide, a propellant that has been involved in numerous other explosions and fires at the TRW plant.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.

One worker, an unidentified woman, was hospitalized, officials said. The hospital would not give information on her condition. Mortelliti said she was in critical condition but the fire department said she was in serious condition. Two men were treated at a hospital and released, while a third was treated at the scene for a knee injury.

TRW Safety Systems Inc., one of the world’s largest producers of automobile air bags, has been plagued with safety violations and fines at its Mesa plants.

Fire officials closed the Germann Road plant last year following a series of explosions. The plant reopened after TRW and the city agreed to a safety plan that included hiring independent consultants to review operations.

TRW, based in Cleveland, voluntarily shut down the same plant in June after six fires broke out within two weeks. No one was injured.

In September 1994, an explosion at the other Mesa plant killed a contract worker. TRW struck a plea bargain with the state attorney general’s office to pay $1.7 million in penalties. TRW also has paid fines of $92,000 and $90,000 levied by the Arizona Industrial Commission.

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