By Sara Peters, Customer Outreach & Digital Media Specialist, Fauske & Associates, LLC
We regularly hear about the dangers of dust in manufacturing environments dealing with organic or chemically based particulates. However, the fines produced during metal fabrication work can also create an incredibly dangerous and energetic dust, as we were unfortunately reminded with the January 2019 dust collector fire at the Nickkei MC Aluminum America, Inc. location in Columbus Indiana.
Dr. Ashok Ghose Dastidar, Vice President, Dust & Flammability Testing and Consulting Services at Fauske & Associates, LLC, frequently uses the comparison of aluminum dust to TNT (which we already know is a powerful explosive) to emphasize its potential volatility, stating that one gram of aluminum dust has about the same explosive energy as 0.7 grams of TNT. That is a lot of power in a seemingly insignificant amount of dust.
Of course, with any type of dust, it is important to perform a hazardous materials test to characterize the hazard risk of the material in question by determining if an explosion hazard exists and, if so, how energetic it may be as the probability of risk based on how the material responds to heat, spark, impact and frictional forces. There are a lot of testing methods available to determine the deflagration hazards of dust samples per ASTM International, OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration, NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency), ISO/IEC (International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission) and UN (United Nations). Given this, the challenge can be ascertaining which tests are best for a certain material.
To help in this area, NFPA published multiple standards with applicability dependent on the types of dust that comprise the mixture. Odds are that if you have a dust containing metallic material, typically, NFPA 484: Standard For Combustible Metals (2019) or NFPA 654: Standard for The Prevention Of Fire and Dust Explosions From The Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids (2017) or are the two standards to go for guidance.
Determining exactly which standard is pertinent can be tricky, however. For this reason, our dust team has prepared the following pictogram to help you determine which set of tests and which NFPA standard is most appropriate for your unique case. Take a look and if you are still unsure, do not hesitate to contact a qualified combustible dust testing expert for assistance.
If you are interested in learning more about combustible dust check out our case study on an explosion accident that occurred during the cleaning procedure of a pan coater.