Friday, August 15, 2008

Michigan Composites Fire and Explosions

Yesterday morning 8/14/08, a devastating fire at Michigan Composites, a marine urethane core component facility on the south side of Nile, Michigan resulted in nearly a dozen fire departments responding with over 70 firefighters from two states. Residents in over 40 homes were evacuated and a three mile radius safety perimeter was implemented by fire protection officials.

News accounts have reported that workers heard numerous explosions following a machine that caught fire. Additionally, the owner stated the fire started in the dust collection system in a piece of sanding equipment. Hopefully the fire investigation results of the cause of the tragic fire will be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, workers at the plant no longer have a place of employment in the already economically depressed state of Michigan.

Urethane core components in the manufacturing subsector 326 Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing follow under NAICS 326150 Urethane and Other Foam Product (except Polystyrene) Manufacturing. Reviewing the OSHA Combustible Dust NEP, it's noted that this niche industry has a Potential for Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires in Appendix D-2.

The U.S Census Bureau historical statistics for NAICS 326150, highlights 623 establishments in the United States that utilize urethane in the manufacturing process. Since the beginning of the year, OSHA has inspected 19 of these establishments, or three percent, in the entire nation according to the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) database.

California (74), North Carolina (60),
Texas (47), and Michigan (44) are the leading states in this NAICS. So far none of Michigan 's NAICS 326150, that are similar to Michigan Composites have been inspected this year. Would an OSHA prior inspection prevented or reduced the severity of yesterdays devastating fire that wracked havoc on the Niles, Michigan community?

Composites is an interesting subject. In the maritime construction of yachts it is an excellent substitute for wood. When utilizing this building material, either low density polyisocyanurate foams or high density polyurethane foams are used . Manufacturers can combine the two to achieve even more diverse results. In the manufacturing process when utilizing polyisocyanates, additional provisions must be incorporated in the collection of dust due to its nature in shedding dust very easily.

A questions arises by the casual observer whether the above foams provided the dust in the dust collection system that contributed to the explosions and fire that was mentioned by the plant owner and workers in earlier news reports. Only time well tell the final results of the fire investigation. In the meantime, the other 622 establishments spread across the nation, with NAICS 326150 (Urethane and Other Foam Product (except Polystyrene) Manufacturing) can reassess their preventative and mitigative measures in reducing potential fire and explosion hazards from combustible particulate solids.

Recent Urethane/Plastic Combustible Dust Related Fires and Explosions

  • 7/1/08 Cope Plastics -explosion/fire dust collector
  • 5/6/08 Apex Millworks-fire in urethane dust bin/ sanding
  • 3/30/08 Quality Cushion & Pad- polyurethane foam-fire/grinding
News Update: Niles Daily Star Friday, August 15, 2008 5:31 PM EDT

According to Niles Township Fire Chief Gary Brovold, the fire started when sparks coming from a sanding unit spread to what sales manager Brian Carpenter called "polyurethane saw dust."

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