By Sara Peters, Marketing Specialist, Fauske & Associates, LLC
When an explosion and fire shook the sugar silo at Perfetti Van Melle candy factory in Erlanger, Kentucky in early December, it was a sobering reminder that hidden dangers can be found in the sweetest of places. Although the incident continues to be investigated, local investigators cite sugar dust in the silo as the likely culprit.
Now, the revelation that sugar can be combustible or explosible when dispersed into the air as a cloud is not a new one. Consider the incident at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, GA in 2008 that caused massive damage to the facility and left 14 people dead and 36 people injured. In fact, the Chemical Safety Board, upon investigation of the events at Imperial Sugar, determined that “Imperial Sugar and the granulated sugar refining and packaging industry have been aware of sugar dust explosion hazards as far back as 1925.” Despite all of the knowledge surrounding the combustibility of sugar, one can see from the event in Erlanger that it still poses a risk to any facility using it in their manufacturing process. Its threats, however, can be mitigated with the proper safety considerations.
Because sugar dust in the silo at Perfetti Van Melle is thought to be the source of the fire and explosion, this blog primarily looks at ways to address the dangers in these pieces of equipment. A bulk sugar silo poses a key risk of combustible dust becoming airborne during filling. This particular type of operation handles powder in quantities that are potentially sufficient to produce an ignitable mixture which can then transition to an explosion due to the confined space of the silo. Some suggested practices to mitigate the chance of a destructive event in a sugar silo or manufacturing facility with such a silo on site are listed below.
The events in Erlanger remain under investigation and it will be interesting to see the final results of the investigation. In the interim however, one has to ask, isn’t one more explosion attributed to the dangers of sugar one too many?
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