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Do dust hazards warrant federal regs?

Chemical dust explosions in the U.S. pose a “serious industrial safety problem,” declared Carolyn Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

CSB held a day-long hearing into the hazards of chemical dust in June. Preliminary research reveals nearly 200 dust fires and explosions have occurred in U.S. industrial facilities over the past 25 years — resulting in about 100 fatalities and 600 injuries.

Information on the accidents can be found at www.csb.gov.

Merritt laments that no comprehensive federal program "addresses this problem." Explosions occur when fine particles of dust are ignited — which has happened repeatedly in industries such as rubber and plastic products, chemical manufacturing, primary metal, lumber and wood products, and food products.

CSB wants to gather information from experts on what changes are needed to reduce the frequency of these blasts. “Dust explosions cause significant damage, serious and often fatal burn injuries, as well as job losses and sharp economic impact in communities,” one CSB researcher told the hearing.

CSB investigations examine all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. The board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

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