Sugar Refinery Fire
Officials suspect static electricity to blame
Death count stands at Thirteen
February 8, 2008
Steve Fowler - Static Control Consultant
Update 3/4/2008: OSHA Sending
Inspectors to Dust-Prone Factories
Statement of CSB Investigations Manager Stephen Selk,
P.E., Updating the Public on the Investigation of the
Imperial Sugar Company Explosion and Fire, Savannah, Georgia,
February 17, 2008
Wentworth, Ga. -- Huge flames could be seen for many
miles around while firefighters fought the fire and rescuers
searched for missing people in the early hours of Friday
morning, after an enormous explosion at the Imperial Sugar
Refinery on the Savanna river between Georgia and South
Carolina. The plant, located near Port Wentworth, Georgia
is the major employer in the riverside town just northwest
Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor was quotes
as stating that he believed the explosion was the result
of a sugar dust and static electricity. The explosion
happened in a storage silo where refined sugar is stored
until it is packaged.
(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)
Note: interesting videos
of dust explosion experiments
look at some of the others that come up when you view
"a small war zone." was how
Captain, Matt Stanley of the Savannah Fire Department
described the site. The blast shook homes miles across
the Savannah River in neighboring South Carolina showingn
the enormous power of the explosion.
Static electricity is believed to be responsible for igniting
sugar dust that started the fire and explosion. One employee
said:"All I know is, I heard a loud boom and everything
came down. All I could do when I got down was take off
running." She was uninjured except for blisters on
" It was like walking into hell,"
a Red Cross worker said. "We had approximately 13
men who were coming out and they were burned, third-degree
on their upper bodies, And they were trying to sit down
and the only thing that wanted was to know where the friends
were." She also stated that some of the men had "no
skin at all" and some had skin "just dripping
62 people were taken to hospitals, some airlifted 130
miles away to the burn center in Augusta, Georgia. Many
people were injured, some with severe burns, and six people
are unaccounted for at this time. Six people have lost
their lives and rescuers are still searching.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is sending an investigative
team to the plant.
This is from a notice sent out from
The following message is from the
U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Washington DC
Investigative Team from U.S. Chemical
Safety Board Deploys to Explosion at South Carolina
Washington, DC, February 8, 2008
- A six-member investigative team from the U.S. Chemical
Safety Board (CSB) is deploying to the site of last
night's explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in
Port Wentworth, South Carolina, near Savannah.
Preliminary media reports, citing
the company chief executive, attributed the blast to
an explosion of sugar dust. Dozens were reported to
be critically injured, and others were reported missing.
The investigative team is led by
John B. Vorderbrueggen, P.E., and includes CSB Board
Member William Wark, who will serve as the principal
spokesperson, and CSB investigations manager Stephen
Selk, P.E. The team is expected to arrive in South Carolina
midday on Friday.
The CSB completed a study of combustible
dust explosions in November 2006, which identified 281
combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that
killed 119 workers and injured 718, and extensively
damaged industrial facilities. A total of 24% of the
explosions occurred in the food industry, including
several at sugar plants.
The CSB report on Combustible Dust
Hazards is available from CSB.gov under Completed Investigations.
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. CSB investigations
look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including
physical causes such as equipment failure as well as
inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and
safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations
or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants,
industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory
agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website,
For more information, please contact
a member of the CSB public affairs office: (1) Daniel
Horowitz, (202) 261-7613 / 441-6074 cell (2) Sandy Gilmour
(202) 261-7614 / (202) 251-5496 cell (3) Jennifer Jones
(202) 261-3603 / (202) 577-8448 cell (4) Hillary Cohen
(202) 261-3601 / (202) 446-8094 cell.
This message was transmitted at 7:06
AM Eastern Time (U.S.A.) on February 8, 2008.
Visit us on the World Wide Web at http://www.csb.gov
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Heath
Administration's Web site, sugar dust is combustible.
Static electricity, sparks from metal tools or a cigarette
can ignite an explosion. Plants where a lot of sugar
dust is present are classified by OSHA as "hazardous
Imperial Sugar, based in Sugar Land, Texas acquired
Savannah Foods and Industries, the producer of Dixie
Crystals in 1997.