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Georgia 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

Update: 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

Port 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 of Savannah.

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 these.

"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 her elbow.

" 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 off them."

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 CSB:

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 Sugar Refinery

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 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

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 locations.

Imperial Sugar, based in Sugar Land, Texas acquired Savannah Foods and Industries, the producer of Dixie Crystals in 1997.



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