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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