The Imperial Sugar Plant Explosion and Its Effect on Sugar Industry

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On February 7, 2008, at around 7:00 pm, an Imperial Sugar Plant exploded and went up in flames at Port Wentworth, GA. There were many reasons as to how it exploded. One of the main reasons was the poor maintenance of the plant itself. The main component that caused the fire and explosions was the sugar dust. There were casualties that cause the lives of the workers at the sugar plant and injured many others.

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One of the main reasons the sugar plant exploded was due to the poor maintenance of the plant itself. The machines were not well taken care of through the whole day. The machines, while running, would spill the sugar onto the floor and on nearby areas. This would happen all day to the point where there would be so much sugar on the floor, that it would reach your knees. This accumulated sugar would then be taken care of by the workers in an improper way. They would blow the floor with compressed air to clear the sugar. By doing this, it would cause other parts of the plant to get covered up by the sugar that was in the ground, such as the ventilation ducts. These ventilation ducts helped to clear the sugar dust but not in the large amounts that was going into them from the ground. Also, the ducts were not well taken care of as well, just like the plant.

The ignition, or what set off the explosions, was created by the conveyor belts. These conveyor belts were used to transport sugar in the plant. These conveyor belts would then be blocked by the huge amounts of sugar, which would then cause even more sugar to spill onto the floor. The company decided, in the same year that the explosion happened, to make changes so the sugar wouldn’t spill. They modified the conveyor belts so no more sugar would be spilled onto the floor but by doing this, it would not meet the safety requirements of the conveyor belts that were needed. Without these safety requirements, such as ventilation, the conveyor belts wouldn’t be able to work and function properly. With this happening, the worst was bound to happen. One of the first explosions was started in one of the conveyor belts. The conveyor belt created an ignition spark due to an excessive amount of sugar blocking the belt, which caused the bearings to overheat. With sugar being highly flammable, it caused a chain reaction of explosions across the whole plant. The explosions were so powerful that they would buckle the concrete floors, sending the accumulated sugar dust on the floor into the air making the air highly flammable as well. This caused the creation of new combustible dust hazards laws and a high priority of combustible dust by the OSHA.

These explosions killed and injured many. The total number of deaths was 14, and the total number of those injured was 38. Those who died were either killed by the explosions or were burned alive. The building was in pieces. There were holes in the concrete floors, foot-thick concrete floors buckled, and what once was a building that had brick on the outside had just a metal framework left.

In conclusion, the disaster could have been preventable. There could have been better maintenance of the whole machinery and the plant. Those who died could have been saved if the company took action and tried to do something about it. The plant still remains destroyed and new safety rules dealing with combustible dust are being created to avoid such instance like this from happening again.

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