Refinery had small blast weeks before

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SAVANNAH, Ga. --- Dust that collected in a piece of safety equipment caused a small explosion at a sugar refinery weeks before the deadly blast that killed nine workers, a federal investigator said Sunday.

Stephen Selk, the investigations manager for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, had few details about the previous explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth.

He could not say whether the earlier blast contributed to the massive explosion Feb. 7.

"It is far too early to reach conclusions about the relationship between that event and this one," Mr. Selk said.

No one was injured in the earlier explosion, said Mr. Selk, who did not know the exact date. Imperial Sugar spokesman Steve Behm said it happened about three weeks ago and caused minimal damage.

The Chemical Safety Board investigates industrial accidents for the federal government and makes safety recommendations to industry and trade groups in addition to federal regulators.

It has just begun looking into the refinery blast after criminal investigators determined Friday the explosion was accidental -- caused by clouds of tiny sugar dust particles that, when airborne in confined spaces, can ignite like gunpowder.

The refinery was equipped with a network of fans and ducts designed to prevent dust explosions by sucking particles out of the plant and transferring them to dust collectors on the roof, Mr. Selk said.

It was inside one of those rooftop dust bins where an explosion occurred weeks before the Feb. 7 blast.

The earlier blast was caused by a small piece of metal that passed through a machine used to grind granulated sugar into finer particles, Mr. Behm said. The metal fragment caused a spark that got sucked into a dust collector and ignited the dust inside it, he said.

The rooftop dust collector had ventilation panels that opened to relieve pressure from the small blast, minimizing the force of the explosion, Mr. Behm said. Damage to the dust collector was minimal, and it was quickly repaired, he said.

Mr. Selk said investigators haven't determined whether the dust extraction equipment was working in the part of the refinery where the larger explosion began.

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iletuknow 02/18/08 - 02:45 am
Big time law suits on the

Big time law suits on the way. Let's hope they drive them out of business.

pantherluvcik 02/18/08 - 08:02 am
Why would someone want them

Why would someone want them out of business, some people need their jobs. It was an accident and that doesn't repair the lives affected. My prayers are with all affected by this tragedy.

lilmace 02/18/08 - 10:09 am
Why is it that some people

Why is it that some people think that an accident has a requirement? The requirement: "Let's see a lawyer and see how much money I can get for this"? Pantherluvcik, you are correct, people need their jobs to support their families. The people working at the refinery were ALL like family to each other.

tdp 02/18/08 - 10:50 am
iletuknow....If this plant

iletuknow....If this plant goes out of business, not only will many people in that small town lose their jobs, but the price of sugar will increase as this plant is a major sugar producer for the U.S. You should really think about what you are writing BEFORE you write it. Accidents are going to happen in manufacturing facilities, despite management's best efforts.

pingputt 02/18/08 - 11:58 am
Take an engineering approach.

Take an engineering approach. There's a time to define the problem and a time to solve the problem. Right now it's time to define it.

heartablazing 02/19/08 - 07:54 am
Wal-Mart stores in this area

Wal-Mart stores in this area where getting there sugar(Great value and Dixie crystals)from this plant. No sugar to be found in any local stores. Kroger gets it's sugar from Cincinnati Ohio and they have plenty of sugar on the shelves. Keep an eye on the present sugar price and see if it will go up in the weeks to come. Not only does this accident hurt the plant workers,but consumers could feel the affect as well.

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