Friday, March 7, 2008

Combustible Dust Mill Fire 3/07/08

Another preventable combustible wood dust fire occurred in our nation's lumbering region in Pittsfield, Maine this morning at Hancock Lumber. Luckily no one was injured, only economic property damage and disruption to mill operations.

From the company's website, the business has a rich history which began operation in 1848 as a small logging operation in Casco, Maine. The first sawmill went into operation in the 1880s.

Today, Hancock Lumber operates three sawmills in Maine (Casco, Pittsfield and Bethel) and is the largest producer of Eastern White Pine in the United States. Hancock "Made in Maine" pine products are shipped nationwide.(1)

"...Crews from several towns used a ladder truck and other equipment to fight the fire, which appeared to be located in a system of pipes that moves byproducts of the milling process..."

Then Chemical Safety Board determined that lumber and wood product industries account for 15 percent of combustible dust incidents. Additionally, wood material accounted for the largest percentage of combustible dust incidents.

a planer striking a rock or piece of metal likely shot a spark into the wood shavings chute, a metal tube about 4 feet in diameter, while employees worked. A fan that draws the shavings up into the chute provided enough oxygen for the spark to ignite the shavings,

After the conclusion of a Combustible Dust Hazards study, the report was submitted to OSHA in 2006 with a half a dozen recommendations to prevent such incidents. The primary recommendation was to implement a comprehensive combustible dust standard which also incorporated National Fire Protection Association combustible dust codes. So far OSHA has failed to act.

On another front, combustible dust related explosions and fires occur with alarming regularity and the tragic Dixie Crystal refinery explosion is not an isolated incident . Already 12 such incidents have occurred in the United States since the sugar refinery explosion. An Act of Congress will soon bring protection to industry and the nation's workforce

Congressmen Miller and Barrow are on the right track in holding a House Education and Labor committee hearing on 12 March 2008 with the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008, which they have recently drafted and are working on having the bill appear on the House Floor.

Pittsfield lumber mill hit by fire

Google Map of Combustible Dust Fires and Explosions

Down Under Combustible Dust Fire

It appears that combustible dust fires and explosions are not limited to the United States as this news release from Australia informs us here on the other side of the equator.

Fire crews are confident they have extinguished a fire in recycled milk powder at the Fonterra Milk processing plant at Darnum in West Gippsland. Fire investigators believed it was caused by spontaneous combustion in a four storey high hopper.

Example: 40 pounds of powdered milk meets up with his buddies at the fire triangle. Their partner, confinement, was not feeling well and decided to stay inside.

Since the Dixie Crystal sugar refinery explosion in Georgia last month, there has been quite a bit of dialog between a diverse group of stakeholders which includes government legislators, enforcement agencies, and labor unions concerning what preventive measures should be taken to prevent future incidents. So far there has been no word from business organizations concerning impending costly preventive legislation in preventing future catastrophic dust explosions.

Luckily in this incident the explosion prevention equipment was functioning properly and only a fire ensued. Back in February 1980, a powdered milk mill in Minneapolis, Minnesota was not so lucky when the mill was destroyed by an explosion when an employee lowered a drop cord into a bin of powdered milk to see if it was empty. A conveyor was running at the bottom of the bin. The drop cord got caught in the conveyor and caused the explosion. The explosion spread throughout the steel bins and the warehouse causing 1 fatality and 8 injuries.

Source:ABC Gippsland

Fire in a tower of milk powder


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