Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where: Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires?

Since the February 7, 2008 Imperial Sugar Refinery combustible dust explosion, over 52 reported combustible dust related explosions and fires have occurred in the United States. The majority of incidents are in rural areas where media exposure is limited and a Google Internet search does not provide an accurate number of the actual occurrences in manufacturing facilities.

Overall Picture
A general picture of incidents in the United States is beginning to develop through research conducted by the Combustible Dust Policy Institute in Santa Fe, Texas, utilizing Google Alerts and RSS feeds. When news reports do not include information whether or not an incident is combustible dust related, then a follow-up telephone call acquiring additional information from the local fire investigator or fire chief is conducted to ensure accuracy of the reporting methodology. Once confirmation is achieved then the incident's geographical location is placed on the Google Combustible Dust Incident Map.

Over 75% of the 52 combustible dust explosions and fires have occurred east of the Mississippi. Further distilling the data, along the Atlantic Seaboard states, stretched from Florida to Maine, over 50% of the incidents have happened . Additionally, in the geographical triangle bordered between the Great Lakes, Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi River over 30% of the incidents are taking place.

Geographical Hot Spots
Locating geographical hot spots where combustible dust incidents are occurring more frequently will allow all stakeholders to develop proactive measures in preventing future occurrences and at the same time not misdirecting resources where incidents are not happening. Many states do not have a large manufacturing sector that handle combustible particulate solids, so combustible dust fires and explosions are minuscule if not nonexistent problem in these geographical areas.

Time and Space
It's to early to ascertain whether the OSHA Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) has any impact on minimizing combustible dust explosions and fires. Currently there is no reduction in combustible dust explosions and fires and at the present rate, an event is taking place nearly every other day somewhere in the United States. Since the Imperial Sugar Refinery catastrophe, injuries have been minimal and it's only a matter of time, space, and luck running out before more fatalities happen.

Voluntary NEP
Much fanfare and hoopla has surrounded the OSHA Combustible Dust NEP, which has really turned into a Trojan horse sort of placebo. The problem is exacerbated at the state level where 22 States have there own OSHA program and not required to have a Combustible Dust NEP, which is voluntary. For example, North Carolina over the past four months is the leading state with six reported combustible dust explosions and fires and at the same time does not have a combustible dust NEP since it has it's own State OSHA program and not federal. Several other State OSHA programs without the voluntary combustible dust NEP's also lead in combustible dust incidents.

The complex issue of combustible dust explosions and fires is more of a regional and geographical problem rather than a national one. It's only when a catastrophic incident occurs with mass fatalities and injuries that a national consciousness arises but this should not be confused with the heart of the problem and that is the geographic nature of manufacturing facilities in the United States. Limited financial resources in the current economy can best be allocated in the specific hot spots and manufacturing sub-sectors where incidents are happening.

A geographical aspect of the complex combustible dust issue needs to be addressed in the upcoming Senate hearing where the combustible dust bill will be voted on prior to arrival on the President's desk. A combustible dust workplace standard definitely needs to be implemented very soon, yet in an intelligent manner that directs regulatory resources efficiently.

Flare-up Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires

Over the past nine days a multitude of combustible dust related explosions and fires have occurred across eight states on both sides of the Mississippi in a myriad of manufacturing industries. Recent incidents include paper, wood, textile, chemical, and plastic manufacturing sectors.

The equipment involved includes a silo, oven, dryer, electrical panel , external burner, auger, and ductwork. Luckily, injuries have been limited to a burn victim in last week's unfortunate wood fiber silo explosion. Prayers still go out to the family and worker for a speedy recovery.

Overall economic damage is in the tens of thousands of dollars. Over 50% of the incidents are reoccurences with combustible dust as the culprit causing a repeat of a dust fire or explosion. For three days last week there was two combustible dust explosions and fires/day, totaling six incidents in three days.

Hopefully after the rash of 14 combustible dust fires and explosions for the month of May, no additional incidents will occur. So lets all cross our fingers for the next two days and pray that the dragon takes a much needed rest. If it keeps up at this pace, 2008 will accumulate a dismal scorecard of over 160 reported combustible dust fires and explosions.

This is in stark contrast to the average of 12 combustible dust explosions and fires/year that the Chemical Safety Board submitted in their Combustible Dust Hazard study with recommendations to OSHA for the period of 1980-2005, which included 281 incidents.

The problem with only acknowledging 281 incidents, is that over 90% of the complex issue concerning combustible dust has not been recognized by industry, governmental regulatory agencies, trade associations, safety professionals, and state/federal legislators. Until all stakeholders recognize and acknowledge that over 3,000 combustible dust explosions and fires have occurred in the past three decades then an understanding of the depth and breadth of the problem will be absent.

In the meantime incidents will occur throughout the nation's manufacturing industries with the explosive atmospheres generated daily in the workplace without precautionary preventative, mitigative, administrative, and technical control procedures.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prevalence Combustible Dust Explosions/ Fires

Yesterday on a cool clear quiet morning on the western slopes of the Ozark Plateau the neighborhood in Springdale, Arkansas would soon be aroused by a loud explosion from the wood product plant across the street. Mixing sawdust particles with plastic resins at high temperatures in the manufacturing process can be risky endeavor for any business. Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc (AERT), is an industry leader in producing products from recycled wood fiber and recycled polyethylene plastic for the construction industry.

Tens of Thousands
Simultaneously spread over several time zones, across the nation’s heartland, tens of thousands of other manufacturing firms would also be conducting there own specialized business handling combustible particulate solids utilizing plastic, rubber, metal, chemical, food, paper, pharmaceutical, and wood feedstock. So who will be dealt a fair hand in getting through the day without a combustible dust fire or explosion occurring at their facility? It’s all a matter of time and space.

While the neighborhood cat was ducking for cover from that pesky mockingbird on Cedar Street, a combustible dust explosion blew the top off the AERT wood fiber storage silo. Just like déjà vu, last year it did the same and flew like a Frisbee 150 foot away. This time, one employee was injured and recent reports indicate he was flown to the Little Rock Burn Center. In the meantime power was knocked out for 1,000 residents and the surge caused power to dim throughout the Springfield Plateau of the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas.

Not Insurgents
A Hellfire missile fired at insurgents in those deep dark caves faraway in another land that we often hear about in news reports has the same thermobaric effect concerning fuel-air mixtures when dealing with the physics of combustible dust explosions.

Three decades ago, in 1977 over a dozen USDA federal grain inspectors in conjunction with dozens of workers where killed in numerous grain facility dust explosions within a short span of time. Not insurgents or terrorists hiding in caves but our friends, family, and neighbors who we interact with everyday.

As a result of these fatalities OSHA requested that the National Academy of Sciences conduct a study concerning the hazards, ignition sensitivities, and explosive severity of combustible dusts. The results were unanimous and it was recommended in 1984 that all industries should take workplace precautions in preventing and mitigating combustible dust explosions. Instead through much political wrangling a watered down version of an OSHA grain facility emerged and the general industry manufacturing sector was left to fend on their own like an orphaned step-child.

21st Century Awakening
Now in the 21st century combustible dust explosions and fires are still occurring and the recent catastrophic Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion has recently reawakened the need for some sort of workplace protection that was not originally instituted two decades ago when the grain facility standard was implemented.

How serious is the threat of a combustible dust explosion or fire occurring at a local facility? Two years ago the United States Chemical Safety Board conducted a Combustible Dust Hazard study, which uncovered 281 combustible dust fires and explosions from the period of 1980-2005. That’s not much of a threat with an average of less than one accident a month.

In contrast, over the last three months, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute has discovered through media reports and phone interviews with fire chiefs throughout the United States there’s been over 48 combustible dust explosions and fires. Extrapolating this data over the same 25 year period would equate to over 3,000 combustible dust explosions and fires or 2 to 3 accidents a week, like what is occurring now.

The threat of a combustible dust explosions or fires does not seem real as if in some faraway land. Already battle lines have been drawn across political boundaries with Democrat and Republican legislators in the Congress and Senate with the “us against them” mentality and the White House administration has boldly stated that the current combustible dust bill movement will be vetoed.

How soon will another combustible dust explosion on the magnitude of the Imperial Sugar Refinery catastrophe bring all stakeholders together for some sort of solution concerning the current and multi- complex combustible dust issue?

Learn from the Pink Flamingo

Union Products which officially ceased conducting business at it's Leominster, MA plant on November 1, 2006 was in the news unexpectantly with a Wednesday morning fire in a defunct production area where an oven and duct work which hadn't been used in two years still had an accumulation of fibers and dust caught fire. A worker in the building that was being renovated for the new owner, tried to quench the blaze with a fire extinguisher and the dust became airborne and ignited. Deputy Fire Chief Daniel P. Kirouac stated that the automatic alarm and fire sprinkler system saved the building from any devastating damage.

Flamingo Origin
Since 1957, Union Products manufactured pink flamingos that consumers purchased to proudly adorn their manicured lawns. Working as a designer over 50 years ago, Don Featherstone, designed the original clay mold using National Geographic pink flamingo pictures. Don would later become Union Products president. From there, the rest is history but not before Don Featherstone, the artist, was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize for his Pink Flamingo.

Attacking the Dragon
Plant owners, mangers, and workers can still learn from the pink flamingo when it comes to combustible dust related fires and explosions. Never point a direct stream from a fire extinguisher or fire hose onto an incipient combustible dust fire. If you do then it will bring the dust into suspension, which is the perfect ingredient when added to the fire triangle for an ensuing combustible dust fire or explosion.

Fire Detection/Suppression
Installing a fire detection, alarm, and suppression system as Union Products had done many years ago will also prevent total destruction of the facility if a combustible dust fire breaks out on the premises. Over the last three months, since the Imperial Sugar Refinery combustible dust explosion there has been over 48 combustible dust related fires and explosions in the United States. The results of many of these incidents where a fire sprinkler system was not installed, has been costly, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage and causing economic havoc with plant shutdowns.

In regards to demolition work where combustible particulate solids have generated combustible dust make sure the contractors have been trained on the hazards of combustible dust or in best case scenario perform a thorough cleaning of all duct work prior to demo work. Several combustible dust fires have occurred in the past where the plant has been shutdown yet combustible fires still occurring during demo or remodeling.

Thanks to the pink flamingo all stakeholders in the manufacturing process can now have a more adept situational awareness when fighting incipient combustible dust fires and scheduling demolition or remodeling work at the facility. Additionally, installing costly fire suppression and destruction systems can save a plant from total destruction.

From: In the pink no more MEANWHILE by Jenny Price
Source: International Herald Tribune, 11/18/2006.
Via: HighBeam Research Logo HighBeam™ Research

Thursday, May 1, 2008

5 Explosions Leading to Imperial Sugar Catastrophe

The Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in February 2008 was not an isolated incident of dust explosions in manufacturing industries across the nation's heartland. In the three weeks prior to the Imperial Sugar catastrophe, starting with a quarter moon and ending with a new moon, five combustible dust explosions occurred on both sides of the Mississippi, in the states of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Virgina resulting in three injuries.

Incidents Continue
Over the last three months since the Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute has recorded 40 additional combustible dust related fires and explosions resulting in injuries and adverse economic damage to local communities.

Millions of workers in over 100,000 manufacturing establishments that process combustible particulate solids are on borrowed time concerning when and where the next combustible dust incident will happen. At the current average rate of one incident every other day, over 100 combustible dust explosions and fires will occur in the remaining eight months of 2008.

Lessen the Odds
Since combustible dusts are an inherent aspect of the manufacturing process theres no absolute method of totally preventing future combustible dust fires and explosions. Bearings will overheat, electrical charges will overcome the dielectric strength of air, and upsets will occur.

To lessen the odds of an incident occurring, preventative administrative and technical measures must be pursued. Additionally, the destructive effects of a dust explosion or fire can be mitigated with explosion ventilation panels, spark detection and suppression systems, in addition to isolation valves. Short term costs for such equipment is initially high yet in the long term valuable assets will be protected from total destruction.

For instance, 40% of the dust explosions that occurred in the three weeks prior to the Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion, had protective and mitigative equipment installed, which lessened the damaging effects of the dust explosion. Additionally, no injuries, fatalities or adverse economic impact occurred in these incidents.

Hazard Assessment
Today is not to late to throughly check all overhead surfaces in the facility for an accumulation of dust. Suspended ceilings that have not been sealed properly can be a deadly culprit in the accumulation of combustible dust, especially if an upset occurs in the plant. The aisles and passageways can be hospital clean. But what about overhead where cleaning and maintenance crews do not usually perform scheduled cleaning duties...sight unseen up above?

May is starting out fresh with no incidents occurring in the last 24 hours. Now the challenge is to get by the rest of the week without a damaging combustible dust fire or explosion occurring. If a facility hasn't done so yet, then now is the time for a hazard assessment of all working areas in the plant.

Are combustible dusts present? If so then find out what potential ignition sources are present. Just like the dust hidden above, hidden electrical charges accumulating and dissipating can be the precursor to combustible dust ignition. Is your process material of high resistivity? If so then now is the time for laboratory testing in determining the minimum ignition energy (MIE) of dusts that are present in the process line.

One Size Fits All?
This week, Congress in a House vote with much opposition, passed a general industry comprehensive combustible dust bill and the next step is a vote in the Senate. The White House with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce has publicly stated their opposition to as they call it, "one size fits all" bill and says President Bush will veto the legislation. How can it be said that this is a "one size fits all"? Especially immediately after the Imperial Sugar incident, 40 combustible dust explosions and fires have occurred in the wood, food, metal, plastic, rubber, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries.

The Combustible Dust Bill is preceding next to the Senate for vote and will insure all manufacturing industries institute preventative and mitigative measures in preventing the devastating effects of predictable future combustible dust related fires and explosions.


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