But these explosions are readily prevented through appropriate equipment design and maintenance and rigorous dust-cleaning programs.
I call upon the sugar industry and other industries to be alert to this serious danger.”The report said the company had not conducted evacuation drills for its employees and that the explosions and fires disabled most of the emergency lighting, making it difficult for workers to escape from the labyrinth of explosion-damaged buildings as the fires continued to spread.
Internal correspondence dating from 1967 showed that Port Wentworth refinery managers were seriously concerned about the possibility of a sugar dust explosion that could “travel from one area to another, wrecking large sections of a plant.” Precursor events included a 1998 explosion at Imperial’s plant in Sugar Land, Texas; an explosion at the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore in November 2007; and two sugar dust explosions in the 1960’s that killed a total of ten workers.
However, Imperial management did not correct the underlying causes of the sugar dust problem at the Port Wentworth facility, where workers testified that spilled sugar was knee-deep in places on the floor, and sugar dust had coated equipment and other elevated surfaces.
CSB Chairman John Bresland said, “Dust explosions can be among the deadliest of industrial hazards, particularly inside heavily occupied buildings.
Sugar dust inside the enclosed conveyor was likely ignited by an overheated bearing, causing an explosion that traveled into the adjacent packing buildings, dislodging sugar dust accumulations and spilled sugar located on equipment, floors, and other horizontal surfaces.
The result was a powerful cascade of secondary dust explosions that fatally injured 14 workers and injured 36 others, many with life-threatening burns.
The refinery’s packing buildings were largely destroyed by the blasts and ensuing fires.
The final report and proposed safety recommendations will be considered for approval by the CSB board members at a public meeting tonight in Savannah. at the Hilton Savannah Desoto hotel, located at 15 East Liberty Street. The CSB also today released a four-minute computer animation depicting the sequence of events that led to the accident.
Savannah, Georgia, September 24, 2009 – In a final draft report released today, CSB investigators said the February 7, 2008, explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, resulted from ongoing releases of sugar from inadequately designed and maintained dust collection equipment, conveyors, and sugar handling equipment.
Inadequate housekeeping practices allowed highly combustible sugar dust and granulated sugar to build up throughout the refinery’s packing buildings, CSB investigators concluded.
The first explosion – known as a “primary event” – likely occurred inside a sugar conveyor located beneath two large sugar storage silos.
The conveyor had recently been enclosed with steel panels creating a confined, unventilated space where sugar dust could accumulate to an explosive concentration.