Identifying the causes of dust explosions

Aug. 1, 2022
There are many risks to consider and they are highly situational.

The plant floor at the West Pharmaceuticals facility in Kingston, N.C., was kept spotless to meet hygiene requirements. However, combustible polyethylene dust accumulated in the suspended ceiling. This led to a dust explosion on January 29, 2003, that killed six workers, injured 38, and destroyed the plant. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) couldn’t identify the ignition source.

As I noted in last month’s column “Get Fired Up About Combustible Dust,” the CSB blames dust explosions for numerous fatalities at many plants. That column provided some basic information on what constitutes a combustible dust. Here, we’ll get into how to identify the risks of dust fires and explosions.

Many plants face risks of dust explosions. Indeed, according to G. Vijayaraghavan, more than 70% of the powders handled by industry are combustible and a vast majority of plants with powder-processing equipment are susceptible to dust explosions (“Emerging Emergencies Due to Dust Explosions in Process Industry,” J. of Eng. Res. and Studies, Vol. II, 2011).

To learn more, read "Prevent Dust Explosions During Processing" from Chemical Processing.

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