VIDEO: CSB Investigation Warns of Dust Explosion Risk at Recycling Facilities
18 July 2014
By Ben Messenger
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released its final report, safety recommendations and accompanying safety video into a fatal combustible dust explosion at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility in New Cumberland, West Virginia.
As presented to the Board for a vote at a public meeting in Charleston, the report reiterates a recommendation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgate a general industry combustible dust standard, which CSB said it has been calling for since its 2006 study on these preventable accidents.
The December 9, 2010 accident at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility, which milled and processed scrap titanium and zirconium metal, killed three employees and injured a contractor.
The CSB said that the incident is one of nine serious combustible dust incidents investigated by the CSB since 2003. These explosions and fires caused 36 deaths and 128 injuries.
According to the CSB’s report, most solid organic materials, as well as many metals, will explode if the particles are small enough, and they are dispersed in a sufficient concentration within a confined area, near an ignition source.
The report emphasised to industry that even seemingly small amounts of accumulated combustible dust can cause catastrophic damage.
The CSB investigation determined that AL Solutions experienced a history of fatal dust fires and explosions.
A newly developed CSB safety video entitled ‘Combustible Dust: Solutions Delayed’ details the process of milling and blending metal powder at the facility which was then pressed into dense disk called ‘compacts’.
“The CSB learned that the AL Solutions facility had fatal fires and explosions involving metal dust in 1995 and 2006 in addition to the 2010 explosion. Also, from 1993 until the accident in 2010, there were at least seven fires that required responses from the local fire department,” explained investigator Mark Wingard.
Around 1:20 pm on 9 December 2010, CSB said that a spark or hot-spot from the blender likely ignited the zirconium powder inside. The resulting flash fire lofted the metal dust particles in the blender, forming a burning metal dust cloud.
The cloud ignited other combustible dust within the production building, causing a secondary explosion that ripped through the plant, killing three workers and injuring a contract employee.
“Preventable combustible dust explosions continue to occur, causing worker deaths and injuries. The CSB believes it is imperative for OSHA to issue a comprehensive combustible dust standard for general industry with clear control requirements to prevent dust fires and explosions,” commented chairperson Rafael Moure-Eras.
In presenting the findings of the case study, CSB’s lead investigator, Johnnie Banks, said: “As the metals were broken down during milling, the risk of a metal dust fire or explosion increased as the metal particles decreased in size.
“At AL Solutions a metal blender used to process zirconium was having mechanical problems that had not been adequately repaired. As a result, the blender was producing heat or sparks due to metal-to-metal contact.”
Investigator Wingard added: “The National Fire Protection Association Standard for Combustible Metals, called NFPA 484, recommends specific practices for controlling metal dust, but AL Solutions did not voluntarily follow those guidelines, and there are no federal OSHA standards to enforce similar requirements.
“In its 2006 Combustible Dust Hazard Study, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a combustible dust standard for general industry based on the current NFPA guidelines.”
The CSB’s report and video encourage industry to take action to prevent combustible dust incidents. In July 2013, the CSB identified its 2006 recommendation to develop a combustible dust standard as the first issue in its ‘Most Wanted Chemical Safety Improvement’ outreach program.
According to Moure-Eraso, had a national standard for combustible dust been in place in 2006 – and if industry had followed the requirements – many of the severe dust incidents that followed, including AL Solutions, may have been prevented.
“The time is now for OSHA to take action to prevent these tragic accidents,” he urged.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
More on this story and accompanying video can be seen in WMW’s weekly newscast below.
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