According to media reports, 95 to 100 workers were thought to be inside the Imperial Sugar refinery when the blast occurred. At press time, firefighters were still fighting blaze, still unable to reach all areas due to extensive structural damage, reports said.
The Associated Press also reported that although fire officials have not determined the cause of the explosion, they said company officials point to sugar dust as the culprit.
According to OSHA, sugar dust is combustible, and if suspended in air or in some other oxidizing medium, could likely cause dust deflagrations, fires and/or explosions.
Imperial Sugar’s President and CEO John Sheptor said in a statement that the investigation is underway and it is not known how long it will take for it to be completed.
“We are all concerned for the welfare of our associates and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families,” he said. “We are grateful for the superb response by the local emergency agencies to this tragic event.”
The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) deployed a six-member investigative team, led by John B. Vorderbrueggen, to investigate the cause of the accident.
CSB completed a study of combustible dust explosions in November 2006, which identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. A total of 24 percent of the explosions occurred in the food industry, including several at sugar plants, the agency said.
The CSB report on combustible dust hazards is available at http://www.csb.gov under Completed Investigations.