Nineteen-Year Record Shows That 311 Persons Lost Their Lives from Such Explosions and Loss Was Over $35,000,000

DUST explosions have taken the lives of at least 311 persons in the last nineteen years is amazing news to most people. Accurate records kept during that period show that there were at least 385 dust explosions in connection with the milling, processing and handling of products largely of agricultural origin. In addition to the loss of life in these explosions, more than 693 workmen were injured and the property losses amounted to over $35,000,000, averaging about $90,000 for each explosion. These figures are a revelation to many and it is surprising to learn that dust explosions are possible in 28,000 industrial plants in the United States.

A number of disastrous explosions have occurred during fire-fighting operations. Sometimes these have taken place when firemen attempted to remove contents of bins or other enclosures that contained materials in powdered form. In other cases, the falling of a floor or the dropping of the bottom of storage bins forced a dust cloud on the fire. Again, a heavy-pressure stream of water striking a pile of powdered material has been known to throw the dust into the flames and bring about an explosion. Another possibility is the chemical reaction between the water and certain types of metallic dust.

Measures Recommended

David J. Price, engineer of the U. S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, recommends the following precautionary measures:

Instead of immediately removing the contents of bins in which a fire has occurred and apparently is extinguished, it is better to flood the bins and thoroughly drench the material before undertaking to remove the contents.

When wetting explosive dusts stored in piles, a spray is preferable to the heavy pressure from the hose.

Plants should be systematically inspected by firemen to acquaint them with any dust explosion hazards existing there. This would prevent the unnecessary exposure of firemen to dust explosions.

That a practical knowledge of dust explosion prevention is important to firemen is indicated by the number of dust explosions that have occurred during fire-fighting operations. Therefore, special attention should be given to the following recommendations:

Firemen in industrial centers where manufacturing operations are located should become thoroughly acquainted with the dust explosion prevention work of the U. S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. The publications of the Bureau should be studied carefully so that firemen may know what a dust explosion really is, the circumstances under which it can occur, and methods for preventing it.

Firemen should know about dust explosions that have occurred during firefighting operations. The danger involved in the use of a heavy-pressure stream of water in fighting fires in plants where combustible dusts are present should be fully recognized.

The danger in removing powdered materials from storage bins where fires have occurred, and the explosion hazard of nearby bins and enclosures containing combustible dust must be fully recognized.

The value of periodical inspection of industrial plants where combustible dusts are created during manufacturing operations assumes great importance when dust explosions of this character are considered. Systematic inspection enables firemen to become thoroughly familiar with structural features of the buildings and the hazardous manufacturing processes carried on in them, and gives them definite knowledge of the contents of the buildings and of any combustible products handled and manufactured. This knowledge is helpful in working out a plan of fire-fighting which will more adequately protect the firemen.

In view of the present upward trend in fire losses, as reported by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, these precautions and all others tending to bring about greater fire-safety are of the utmost importance. To firemen they may mean life or death.

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