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


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