Another Explosion at Metal Powder Plant in Tennessee Seriously Injures Workers

Emergency crews are on the scene after a third serious incident at the Hoeganaes Corp. in Gallatin, Tenn. An explosion was reported at the plant at approximately 6:30 am this morning, with reports that five workers were injured. Three of the workers are listed in critical condition at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center burn unit in Nashville.

This is the third serious incident in four months at the facility, which produces atomized iron powder for industrial customers and employs approximately 180 people. A Jan. 31 flash fire fueled by combustible iron dust killed two mechanics at the plant, Vernon Corley and Wiley Sherburne, who were engulfed in flames when explosive dust ignited while they were fixing an elevator. Corley did not succumbed to his burn injuries until 6 days ago. A similar fire involving iron dust occurred on March 29 and caused one injury.

According to a company official, today’s accident took place in the vicinity of one of the facility’s furnaces.

At a news conference held in Nashville on May 11 about the two earlier incidents, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released laboratory test results showing that metal dust collected from various locations around the facility was combustible and capable of exploding when dispersed in air and confined. CSB Investigative Team Lead Johnnie Banks noted that the CSB team had observed significant quantities of accumulated metal dust on surfaces within close proximity to the incident locations and elsewhere throughout manufacturing areas, including on elevated surfaces.

The cause of the most recent incident has yet to be determined. A four-person investigation team from CSB has been dispatched to the scene, where occupational safety and emergency responders are investigating. Banks will lead the CSB’s investigation. The team will interview key witnesses, examine the incident scene and request relevant documents.

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