CSB: Chemical Dust Explosions Are a 'Serious Problem'

Carolyn Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), declared chemical dust explosions in the United States are a "serious industrial safety problem" when she opened a daylong hearing on the hazards of such accidents.

Merritt noted CSB's preliminary research reveals that nearly 200 dust fires and explosions have occurred in U.S. industrial facilities over the past 25 years, resulting in approximately 100 fatalities and 600 injuries.

"Dust explosions are preventable," she said at the hearing, convened by the CSB as part of an ongoing investigation into the causes and prevention of dust explosions in the United States. "Dust explosions often cause serious loss of life and terrible economic consequences. While some programs to mitigate dust hazards exist at the state and local levels, there is no comprehensive federal program that addresses this problem."

Merritt said the agency wants to find out more information about the scope of the dust problem.

"After the study is complete, we will be better able to recommend measures to help avoid dust explosions and fires like those at West [Pharmaceutical Services], CTA [Acoustics] and Hayes Lemmerz," she said, referring to three U.S. dust explosions in 2003 that killed 14 people and injured 81.

At the hearing, CSB lead dust study investigator Angela Blair and investigator Giby Joseph presented preliminary data indicating there have been 197 dust explosion incidents in the United States since 1980, causing 109 fatalities and 592 injuries. The explosions, which occur when fine particles of dust are ignited, occur in many industries, the CSB found, including rubber and plastic products, chemical manufacturing, primary metal, lumber and wood products and food products, among others. They occur nationwide. For example, the CSB preliminary data show 21 such incidents in Illinois over the years, 19 in California, 13 in Ohio, eight in North Carolina and three in Kentucky.

Blair said the primary purpose of the hearing was to gather information from experts on what changes are needed to reduce the occurrence of these accidents.

"This information will aid our investigation and result in recommendations that ultimately will save lives and prevent large economic and job losses," Blair said. "Dust explosions cause significant damage, serious and often fatal burn injuries, as well as job losses and sharp economic impact in communities."

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