Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spark Detection: Your First Line Of Defense


"the NFPA specifies in its Standard 664, paragraph A. “The spark extinguishing system should activate every time a single spark is detected.”

Spark Detection: Plant’s First Line Of Defense

Understanding the best application of infrared and heat detection sensors is important for effective control systems.

By Jeffrey C. Nichols | June 22, 2014

The National Fire Protection Association defines combustible dust as “A finely divided combustible particulate solid that presents a flash fire hazard or explosion hazard when suspended in air or the process-specific oxidizing medium over a range of concentrations.”  (NFPA 654, the Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions, 2013)

The key to preventing a catastrophic event is to install effective prevention technology for detecting all sparks and embers in the incipient stage in the process, and extinguishing or diverting sparks
before they ignite the transported material and dust.

Spark detection and extinguishing systems include detectors, control consoles and countermeasures like extinguishment or diverter gates.  If a spark occurs, the detector signals the control console, which records the event and triggers programmed countermeasures and interlocks, all within milliseconds. Typically, the control console activates atomized extinguishment for a programmed time to extinguish the hazard without affecting production.

Two general categories of spark detectors are sensors that detect spark energy in the visible and invisible near infrared range, and those that detect heat radiation, called black-body or hot particle

Standard spark detectors are preferred for most applications to detect visible spark energy in the near infrared (IR) range and are effective for identifying ignition sources in the incipient stage. They
detect the infrared energy emitted by a spark, and can detect sparks and embers through material flow. A visible spark in the near infrared range can also be detected at much greater distance than heat.

Black-body heat detectors do not detect sparks or embers until they reach a minimum temperature in close proximity to the sensor. Heat radiation becomes harder to detect the farther the detector is from the source. Systems based only on heat detectors rely upon the theory that only particles above a certain temperature are dangerous and may miss sparks that when combined with proper conditions for combustion farther downstream may still result in a fire or explosion. Because of this, the
NFPA specifies in its Standard 664, paragraph A. “The spark extinguishing system should activate every time a single spark is detected.” Industry expert, Vahid Ebadat of Chilworth Technology Inc., a firm that investigates explosions, concurs, saying, “…the ‘bottom-line’
response to this question would be a suggestion to consider the above-quoted guidance from NFPA 664, and detect and extinguish every single spark” (see

Transitions and low-pressure pneumatic conveying systems with ambient air temperatures use standard IR spark detectors, flush mounted on opposite sides of the duct to detect sparks and embers through the material stream. For dryers or high-pressure conveying, IR spark detectors should be used containing features like the GreCon FM 3/8 that uses stainless steel clad fiber-optic cables to connect to the duct cross-sectional viewing area. Using fiber-optic cables protects the sensor electronics from the radiant heat of the transport or conveyor from a material dryer or other heat source.

Transitions where ambient light is present require a black-body radiation detector similar to the GreCon DLD 1/8 day light sensor. Black-body detectors are best suited for applications where there is ambient light present, such as drop chute transitions onto or from belt conveyors with detectors viewing through the cascading material on opposite sides of the chute. Multiple detectors versus one single detector provide redundancy and greatly reduce the material masking effect.

Never mount a detector with a lens protruding into the material flow. Depending on the type and size of material, this exposes the lens to abrasion that wears through the lens. These conditions affect the
sensor’s ability to function properly and make the system unreliable over the long-term.

A better way to achieve the required visibility, while reducing the exposure of the sensors to wear and tear, is to use sensors with flat lenses and mount them flush on opposite sides of the transport duct
where the material flow helps keep the lenses clean. Using IR detectors on either side of a duct has the benefit of ensuring redundant detection from different viewing angles throughout the cross-sectional area of the duct or transition.

Plant Application
A large biomass processing plant will use spark detectors in key locations. The wood pellet mill shown in the accompanying schematic has detectors at the output of the dryer, the hammermill, pellet press and cooler, as well as the conveying systems between each production process, and all dust collection systems. Control systems include atomized water extinguishment systems and fire dumps to remove burning materials. Other countermeasures can be interlocked, including deluge, abort gates, equipment shutdown or programmable logic controller actions.

Advanced multimicroprocessor control consoles can monitor and raise alarms on various hazardous conditions. Other instruments can detect smoke, rate of heat rise, combustion gas and flames. These advanced control consoles can also trigger multiple combinations of countermeasures from multiple detection zones and be set up for complex special configurations, if required.

When evaluating systems, industry professionals recognize Factory Mutual Approved equipment for the extensive testing that ensures it will reliably deliver on its promise. FM Approval certifies compliance with recognized standards.

Awareness is the key to fire and explosion prevention, and understanding spark detection technologies is the key to protecting material transport systems.

Author: Jeffrey C. Nichols
Managing Partner, Industrial Fire Prevention LLC

Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Survive an OSHA Audit -- Occupational Health & Safety

How to Survive an OSHA Audit

From Occupational Health & Safety,

There are many records and written programs that OSHA does not specifically require to be in writing, but you should have them anyway.

How to Survive an OSHA Audit

There is no way to
avoid an OSHA audit, much as there is no way to avoid having a root
canal. But you can lessen the pain by being well-prepared.
"Hello. I'm from OSHA, and I am here to help you."

If you own or operate a business, chances are very good you've heard these dreaded words before. Next to, "Hello, I'm from the Internal Revenue Service," there are few greetings more inclined to make your knees weak. But it doesn't have to be that bad.

Even with the 7 million workplaces that it covers each year, OSHA
will most likely find its way to your location. When it does, here are
some tips to help you survive your OSHA audit.

Plan for an inspection by making sure you have three key items in place prior to the arrival of the OSHA compliance officer (CO):

1. A determination whether you will ask for a warrant

2. A form to document what occurs during the inspection

3. All pertinent documentation, such as written programs, training records, inspection records, etc.

We recommend you do not require the CO to obtain a warrant before
entry unless you need to gain time, such as when a manager or counsel
needs to be present. It is your legal right to ask for a warrant, but
this might trigger a stricter audit (and raise possible red flags). It's
wiser if you simply work with the inspector. Answer questions honestly
and fully, but don't offer additional information unless it will help
you avoid citations. Cooperate as long as the inspector remains ethical
and reasonable.

Be prepared. These inspections are without notice, so you will want
to have all information readily available in anticipation of an
impending audit. Here are some items to have prepared:
  • Assignment of responsibilities, to include a "greeting team" to meet the CO
  • Documented training logs
  • Recordkeeping
  • Equipment inspection records
  • Safety and health policies
  • Review of insurance and third-party audits
  • Hazard assessment and abatement
  • Review of previous audits and citations
It is also wise to have a form available to record the inspector's
actions and comments during the inspection. This information will help
you understand what transpired and will assist your attorney, should you
contest the citation or penalty. Items you should record on this form
  • The inspector's name and office telephone number
  • The documents that the inspector reviewed and copied
  • The attendees at the opening and closing conferences
  • The areas that were inspected
  • The employees and union representatives who participated
  • The dates and times when the inspector was on site
Document Review

Almost all OSHA inspections begin with a review of written documents.
These documents include your injury and illness records, safety manual,
OSHA-required programs, OSHA-implied programs, safety procedures, and
training records.

There are many records and written programs that OSHA does not
specifically require to be in writing, but you should have them anyway.
These documents are referred to as OSHA-implied records. For example,
although OSHA requires every employer to conduct frequent ladder
inspections, there is no specific requirement to keep a written record
of ladder inspections. The written record in this case could be a log of
all ladders with initials and dates of inspection or a tag attached to
the ladder with spaces for the inspector to initial and date.

Just to get you used to what you're in store for, we'll walk through a mock OSHA audit:

1. The knock at the door. We recommend escorting the compliance
officer to your office or waiting area. This will give you time to
gather your documents and the "greeting team" to accompany the CO
through the inspection.

2. The opening conference. The officer will explain why OSHA selected
your workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection.
Have your "greeting team" here to accompany the CO during the
inspection. Make sure you set ground rules for the inspection, get a
copy of the complaint if applicable, treat the CO in a professional
fashion, coordinate with on-site contractors and vendors, bring up any
trade secret issues you may have, but don't volunteer any information unless asked.

3. The walk-around/inspection. Make sure you have an employee
representative attend the entire inspection and take accurate notes on
areas reviewed and all discussions and comments from the CO, as well as
any photos, videos, air monitoring, etc. Keep in mind that whatever is
in the CO's sight is subject to inspection. But maintain control.
Remember, it's your facility and you have rights. Don't be bullied, but
also don't try to talk your way out of an apparent hazard. It will not
help and probably will make it worse. Above all, don't destroy evidence.
The CO also may want to interview employees; make sure to schedule
these away from your work area. It's up to your hourly employees whether
they want company representation during the interview. Advise the
employee of his/her rights, your appreciation of their cooperation, and
to tell the truth. Be aware that employees do have whistleblower rights.
As for management and supervisor interviews, always have another
management person/counsel present during the interview. If there is a
fatality investigation, your attorney always should be present. No tape
recording is permitted, and you will need a signed statement upon

4. The closing conference. During the closing conference, the CO will
review any apparent violations and discuss possible methods for
correcting the violations within a reasonable time period. The CO will
explain that the violations found may result in a citation and a
proposed financial penalty, then describe the employer's rights and
answer all questions. Remember, this is not a time for debate--the law
requires OSHA to issue citations for safety and health standards
violations. The citations include:
  • A description "with particularity" of the violation
  • The proposed penalty, if any
  • The date by which the hazard must be corrected
Citations are usually prepared at the local OSHA office and mailed to
the employer via certified mail. OSHA has up to six months to send a
Notice of Penalty. Employers have 15 working days upon receipt to file
an intention to contest OSHA citations and/or to request an informal
conference with the area director to discuss any citations issued.

Common causes to dispute citations include:
  • The citation is false.
  • The citation's dollar penalty is excessive.
  • You disagree with the citation's contention that the danger was real, serious, and that an accident was likely to occur.
  • The contention that you are responsible for causing the unsafe conditions.
Finally, contesting may not relieve you completely of a penalty, but
it may help you negotiate a lesser fine. Contesting is usually a good
idea. OSHA typically negotiates with employers to a lesser penalty

There is no way to avoid an OSHA audit, much as there is no way to
avoid having a root canal. But similarities aside, you can lessen the
pain by being well-prepared.

About the Author

Jim Rhoad is an Outsource Risk Manager with Ottawa
Kent Insurance in Jenison, Mich. He has experience in dealing with
worker’s compensation issues across all industries, including
construction and manufacturing. He can be reached at

Copyright 1996-2013 1105 Media Inc. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Risk Assessments Made Easy -- Occupational Health & Safety

Risk Assessments Made Easy
From Occupational Health & Safety,

Risk Assessments Made Easy

Every business should carry out regular risk assessments, and
there's no excuse not to with the Risk Assessor App, which is free to
download on the App Store. It makes the process easy and produces a
clean, easy-to-read report in PDF format. It's important to keep the
assessments up to date, so the App syncs reminders for future
assessments with iCal.

Risk assessments are a vital step in protecting your business, its
workers, and anybody who might be affected by risks in the area. They
provide a platform to focus on risks that really matter in the
workplace, the ones which have potential to cause injury or harm. In
most instances, straightforward measures can be taken to control risks.
An example would be ensuring that spills are cleaned up promptly to
prevent people from slipping, or perhaps something as simple as closet
drawers being kept closed to ensure people do not trip. For most, that
makes for simple and effective measures to ensure that your workforce
and the public are protected.

A risk assessment is report detailing the examination of what in your
work area could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh whether you
have taken enough precautions to prevent harm. Everybody has the right
to be protected from harm caused by failure to take reasonable control
measures, and a simple assessment is the way to do it.

Besides injuries, your business will be harmed if output is lost, machinery is damaged, and insurance costs increase.

Here's how to assess risks in your workplace:
  • Identify the hazards in the area
  • Decide who might be harmed and how
  • Evaluate the risks and decide on the precautions to take
  • Record your findings and implement them
  • Review your assessment and update it if necessary
The app makes this process very easy. Download the app for free here. To view a video demo, click here.

Posted by James Boatwright on Apr 24, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wood Pellet Safety

Standardizing Pellet Safety from

Standardizing Pellet Safety

Countries around the globe are combining efforts to develop robust safety standards for pelletized biofuels.
By Anna Simet | June 04, 2014

Fires and explosions are an undesirable reality of the pellet industry, and can result in employee injury or death, economic loss, and facility damage. As global pellet production and consumption have soared over the past several years, the buzz surrounding safety and health issues in the manufacturing, handling and storage of wood pellets has become much louder. So loud, that the International Standards Organization has launched an effort, under the direction of Working Group 4 of ISO/TC238, to develop global standards for numerous components of commercial, industrial and small-scale applications. Topics to be addressed include not only prevention, detection, suppression and management of fires and explosions, but also safe handling and storage, analysis of spontaneous heat generation and analysis of off-gassing products. 
Fires and explosions are an undesirable reality of the pellet industry, and can result in employee injury or death, economic loss, and facility damage. As global pellet production and consumption have soared over the past several years, the buzz surrounding safety and health issues in the manufacturing, handling and storage of wood pellets has become much louder. So loud, that the International Standards Organization has launched an effort, under the direction of Working Group 4 of ISO/TC238, to develop global standards for numerous components of commercial, industrial and small-scale applications. Topics to be addressed include not only prevention, detection, suppression and management of fires and explosions, but also safe handling and storage, analysis of spontaneous
heat generation and analysis of off-gassing products.

While all issues up for discussion are essential, Chris Wiberg, manager at Biomass Energy Laboratory and participating member of the new working group, a spin-off of the ISO standards for solid biomass fuels initiative, says that in his opinion, self-heating and carbon monoxide (CO) are the most critical because of the dangers each presents. “For example, on vessels, whenever there is a large store of pellets, it has the natural ability to offgas carbon monoxide,” Wiberg explains. “So in confined spaces like the hull of a ship, pellets generate CO and it can build up in the ship, and there have been some deaths associated with it.”

When it comes down to documented instances, considering all of the circumstances, it’s debatable whether it was truly caused by pellet off-gassing, Wiberg admits. “However, the phenomena has been documented enough to show that it does occur, we just don’t understand exactly why.

It has also been reported in small storage—residential home heating models with basement-type storage. Again, it’s confined, and if someone goes in there after off-gassing has occurred, it can create a very dangerous circumstance. Figuring out why this occurs and developing safe practices to eliminate these types of issues, is the key driver behind this initiative, and it’s one I personally take great interest in.”

For self-heating, which is the result of chemical reactions that produce heat at sufficient rates to raise the temperature of surrounding material in a stockpile, Wiberg says it’s the same scenario—why it
occurs isn’t really known, but researchers are digging into to all potentials. “In the meantime, how do we keep the pellets from getting out of control thermally? When there’s a silo hot spot that grows out of control until it’s a smoldering fire, how do you put it out? You can’t pour water onto the pellets, as the first few inches will absorb the water so it cannot get it down deeper in the silo, so it’s a very
difficult fire to fight and can persist for a very long time.”

Fires related to the pellet process potentially result in explosions, Wiberg adds, which serve as an interconnection to the issues of explosivity and safe handling of dust and materials. “All of the different topics are really important—it’s interesting that there is so much left to be understood and discovered.”

While the ISO standards will change safety and health protocol within the pellet industry in a very
meaningful way, lots of work done by experts around the globe over the past several years has led up to this effort.

Orchestrating Collaboration
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada and the University of British Columbia have performed considerable work in the realm of pellet safety, drawing much attention to the topic, and, not directly related to the ISO group activities, a pellet safety workshop was held in Fügen, Austria, last year. It was expected that progress made since that meeting would be detailed at this year’s event in early May.

Christian Rakos, president of the European Pellet Council, says this year, self-heating is high on the agenda. The SafePellets project, which has been investigating mechanisms responsible for self-heating since early 2012, were to present research results for the first time. “Also, safety
in the supply chain particularly in terminals, seems to be a topic that is going to draw attention because of large investments in terminals.”

Rakos says that while the EPC wanted to have this year’s workshop directly attached to the next meeting of the ISO group in early June to allow direct interaction, it wasn’t possible for organizational reasons. “But we will seek close interaction and flow of information,” he says.

Wiberg, who attended the Fügen work-shop last year, says he’d also like to see the groups cooperate to prevent redundancy, but it’s likely that individuals at Fügen will also be attending the ISO initiative, allowing a confluence of information between safety experts. Rakos says he believes last year’s meeting did just that. “Most of the benefits of these interactions are not directly visible, but I am sure they are there,” he says. “A lot of learning has been taking place, and will

The June ISO meeting follows the first meeting in October, which members from seven countries attended. Representing the U.S. was Scott Cedarquist of the American Society of Agricultural and
Biological Engineers, the standards development organization assigned by ANSI to oversee the activities of ISO TC 238, and the administrator of the U.S. technical advisory group. At the upcoming meeting, feedback on a base document that is considered the first draft of the standards will be discussed, and work for the next year will be plotted, according to Cedarquist.

Global interest in development of the ISO Standards has been healthy, but still has room to grow, he says. When initiatives first began, efforts were very European dominated, but that dynamic is
changing. “The number of countries [involved] has really expanded—Korea and Thailand are starting to participate, and they [the group] have reached out to Russia and others that are big powerbrokers when it comes to woody biofuels. We’d like to see an expansion of participants as we’re trying to get a world view on this, but at least right now, we have Asia, North America and Europe.”

 While all countries interested in the ISO work may not have physical representation at the meetings, participating nations may still vote and have committees developing that each respective nation’s position, Cedarquist says. In the U.S., interest has been satisfactory. “We’ve got a fairly large group, and it seems like we add a couple people every month, many who just want to know what’s going on, because they may just be interested in a small subset of the committee.”

Observing members may weigh in only on topics of great interest, rather than all topics under the
working group, which includes pellet testing standards. “For example, a company that makes sampling equipment or chemical testing equipment may not care about all the other topics,” Cedarquist explains. “If you’re a company that makes fire suppression equipment, you’d certainly want to see the stuff that comes through on safe handling and storage, but maybe not sampling and things of that nature. We continue to reach out, and we haven’t yet set a limit on the number of people in the committee.”

So why has it been imperative for the U.S. to become involved in standardization efforts? There’s more to it than one might think. “In the context of current EN [testing] standards already published and being utilized in contracts, for the simplest of comparisons, in the U.S., the definition of fines is particles that will pass through a one-eighth-inch mesh screen, and the definition in Europe is
3.15-millimeter round hole. If it’s determined a 3.15-millimeter round-hole screen is needed, there aren’t any U.S. manufacturers that make such a screen. So in order to get appropriate testing equipment, we have to make an order from Europe, pay extra dollars because of shipping, the Euro exchange, and it takes time to get equipment from overseas. This results in equipment issues, time delays, and inconsistency in data comparability.”

Relating back to safety, similar issues are present. “We understand what our scenario is for pellets, how they’re produced and what safety issues there are. But if the issues there aren’t the same—and it’s likely they aren’t, because here the species prominent are hardwoods and southern yellow pine and in Europe it’s predominately spruce—there will be differences, such as the volatiles that might off-gas, or the behavior of dust.”

If standards are developed based on the European model and the U.S. isn’t at the table, it will not be able to provide its interpretation, making it difficult or impossible for U.S. producers to meet contract
specifications. “Power companies or anyone purchasing pellets will cite the standards in their contracts, and if we aren’t there during their development to tell them ‘wait a second, this doesn’t apply to us,’ it will be written into the standard and a contractual requirement. We have to be on our toes and watch this very closely as it develops.”

The key to successful development of the standards is through means of a two-stage approach—creating safe practices, but also understanding why events occur, Wiberg says. “That’s why it’s been so difficult, up until now, to develop these standards, because it hasn’t been well

The nature of the pellet industry is that fires are a reality, he adds. “But it’s good we’re starting to collaborate at this level to help identify cause and effect, and change practice that will hopefully improve our industry’s safety record.”

Author: Anna Simet
Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine

Scott Cedarquist, American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers

Christian Rakos, European Pellet Council

  • Chris Wiberg, Biomass Energy Laboratory

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned

Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned 

[The Biomass Monitor] from the Energy Justice Network

Editors note: While we do not agree with all assertions in this article, it does a good job of cataloging and pointing out the dangers of wood dust, as well as fires and explosions in the biomass industry - which we are in business to help prevent!  Call or write with any questions.

Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned


- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

smokestack emissions aren’t the only public health threat from
industrial scale biomass energy facilities. Fires and explosions have
been responsible for multiple injuries and three deaths at biomass
incinerators over the past three decades.

As of May 2013, fires and/or explosions have occurred at 22 industrial biomass incinerators, based on research from UK-based Port Talbot Residents Against Power Stations and The Biomass Monitor.

Additionally, over 45 wood pellet plants and 20 wood products mills have experienced fires of varying levels of intensity and destructiveness.  

“Besides the emissions that come out of these facilities’ smokestacks when they  are operating,” said Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch,” people living in proximity are at risk from fires and explosions which are really very common.”

Fires at biomass facilities typically start from boiler fires, spontaneous combustion of fermenting wood chip or sawdust piles, or wood dust explosions, according to the Institution of Fire Engineers.  

The most recent biomass incinerator accident occured on June 2, 2013 where a wood-burning biomass incinerator caught on fire at Hexham's Egger UK Chipboard Plant in Hexham, UK.

A boiler at the Buena Vista Biomass Power Plant in Amador County, California ruptured on May 30, 2013. Two people were injured, one seriously (airlifted to Sacramento Hospital with burns and cuts) from the "catastrophic mechanical failure." 

The Koda Energy combined-heat-and-power biomass facility in Shakopee, Minnesota exploded on April 25, 2013,
igniting a fire in two of its fuel storage silos that burned for over a week. The 23.4 megawatt facility burns wood chips, oat hulls and other organic materials to generate electricity for Xcel Energy Inc. The cause of the fire has not been determined and it’s uncertain when the facility will start up again.

The International Biomass Conference and Expo, self-described as “the largest gathering of biomass industry professionals in North America,” held an industry tour of the Shakopee incinerator on April 8, two weeks before the fire shut it down.  

A 600 megawatt coal/biomass facility in Nijmegen, Netherlands exploded on November 8, 2012 due to “steam pipe overpressure,” according to owners GDF Suez. Police told residents to stay inside as steam clouds billowed into the air and ceramic wool littered the streets. 

A sawdust pile at the 30-megawatt Biomass One incinerator in White Pine, Oregon burst into flames on September 15, 2012 and again on September 18. A woodchip pile had previously caught fire at the facility on July 4, 2009, likely due to spontaneous combustion, which occurs as woody material decays and heats up. 

“Fermenting wood piles…are a fire risk and there are generally huge piles of woodchips and pellets on site” at biomass facilities, said Smolker. “Most processed, dried biomass/wood particles put into storage with a moisture content of 15% or more can start to heat,” according to Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network.

“The surrounding drier biomass insulates the heating area, supporting a rise in its temperature up to auto-ignition and combustion with oxygen levels in the biomass/wood.”

Dong Energy’s 810 megawatt biomass power incinerator in Avedore, Denmark experienced a fire on August 12, 2012 that began in its electrical conveyor system and spread to its wood pellet silos. The cause of the fire is unknown.

Three people were injured, including one person suffering severe burns, after a May 11, 2012 wood dust explosion in a wood pellet silo at the Amager Power Station in Copenhagen, Denmark, which burns biomass and coal. The fire was traced to a cleaning method called “bang and clean” which uses small explosions of oxygen and methane to clean boilers, but was used in this case to unblock a plug of wood pellets. Fire returned to the facility again on December 19, 2012. 

Dust explosions throughout industry—not just the biomass industry—are so common, there’s an entire website devoted specifically to keeping track of them.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls dust fires a “major industrial hazard.”An October 2009 OSHA report
notes 280 dust fires and explosions at industrial sites—the largest
percentage being wood, but also including “food products, metal
products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastic products, paper
products, furniture, electric and sanitary services, transportation
equipment, durable goods, and textile mills”—over the past 25 years,
which have killed 119 people and injured 700. OSHA conducted 1,000 inspections, with 25% of inspections of wood related facilities and found 3,786 federal (74% serious) violations and 1,140 state (34% serious).

“Dust is not only a fire risk,” said Smolker, “but also it is very harmful to breathe wood dust.”

A pipe explosion blew a hole in the boiler and a six foot hole in a concrete wall at the Blue Lake Power biomass incinerator in Blue Lake, California in March 2012. The facility’s wood-loading conveyer belt caught fire the year before.

A massive fire raged inside wood pellet silos for RWE’s Tilbury Power Station in Essex, UK, on February 27, 2012. The biomass incinerator—the largest in the world at 750 megawatts—had just been converted from coal to woody biomass a month earlier. RWE claims no single cause can be attributed to the fire, but suspects that smoldering wood pellets triggered the dust fire.

Two workers were critically burned at an explosion at Nacogdoches Generating Facility in Sacul, Texas on January 31, 2012. The fire was blamed on an electrical explosion, though the exact cause has not been determined. At 100 megawatts, Nacogdoches is the biggest biomass power incinerator in the US and is now owned by Southern Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company. Due to low demand for its power, the facility has been sitting idle the majority of the time since 2012.

A “huge” fire ripped through a storage facility for wood pellets at Port of Tyne, UK on October 31, 2011, the pellets destined for the Drax biomass power incinerator in Yorkshire. The fire, which took firefighters twelve hours to extinguish, is thought to have been caused by spontaneous combustion following a “chemical reaction” inside the
storage unit.

Georgia Biomass' wood pellet processing plant in Waycross, Georgia exploded on June 21, 2011. A "good portion" of the 750,000 annual tons of wood pellets from the facility fuel RWE's Tilbury Power Station [see above] in the UK.

The baghouse filter system for Middlebury College’s combined heat and power facility in Middlebury, Vermont caught fire on May 16, 2011.  

“Friction” in a wood pellet crushing machine started a three alarm fire on March 1, 2011 that set several floors on fire at Schiller Station, a 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

In February 2007, an “obstructed pipe filled with burning ash” also caused a fire and in 2006 four firefighters suffered first or second degree steam burns from fighting a fire in an ash containment facility on the premises. 

Fire closed Covanta Energy’s Onondaga County Resource Recovery Facility, a 39.5 megawatt trash incinerator, on April 2, 2010. The fire started during “routine maintenance of a fabric filter used to filter dust particulates.”

Three workers aged 29, 59, and 62, were tragically killed when a biomass energy facility exploded at Brilon Chipboard Plant in North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany on February 5, 2010. The cause of the deadly explosion at one of Europe’s largest chipboard manufacturing facilities is unknown.  

A stack of discarded dock piers caught fire while being chipped for the Piney Power Plant in Clarion, Pennsylvania on July 15, 2009. Two firefighters suffered heat exhaustion while battling the blaze.

A feed hopper at the University of South Carolina’s biomass power incinerator exploded on June 28, 2009 in a “potentially lethal accident” which propelled a metal panel 60 feet towards a control office, reportedly from a fuel augur rupturing. The $20 million facility, which was built in 2007, was shuttered in 2011 after having been shut down over three dozen times and experiencing three accidents. 

A biomass incinerator in Sittard, Netherlands was “virtually completely destroyed” by a fire that followed an explosion on May 10, 2007. The cause of the explosion is unknown.

 Fires in a smoldering fuel pile at the Boralex construction and demolition debris incinerator in Athens, Maine in 2002 caused the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to fine the corporation $600,000. The smoke sent several people to the hospital.

Beaver Wood Energy’s
biomass incinerator in Livermore Falls, Maine had a fuel pile catch fire lasting over a month in October 2006. The facility has a “ long history of air emissions violations” including High Priority Violation of the Clean Air Act since April 2005.

A wood chip pile caught fire from “extreme fermentation” at the McNeil Generating Station in September 1985, a 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator in Burlington, Vermont. The facility is the state’s largest polluter and is within a few hundred feet of the most ethnically-diverse neighborhood in Vermont.

Tighter safety regulations have been discussed to help prevent future tragedies at biomass incinerators and other facilities, yet industry has pushed back due to the added expenses.

“The biomass industry likes to say how clean their facilities are because they’re not doing ‘uncontrolled’ burning,” said Ewall. “But the reality is, on top of inadequately controlled smokestack emissions, communities actually run the risk of being exposed to multiple incidents of uncontrolled burning” from routine incidents of fire.