Officials mum on Didion corn mill explosion (copy)

June 2, 2017 GMT

JOHNSON CREEK -- As federal, state and insurance investigators headed to the remains of a Didion corn mill in Cambria seeking explanations for the explosion that killed three people Wednesday night, a Didion official wouldn’t say if the catastrophe was created by dust that ignited and exploded.

The three employees who died in the explosion were identified by Didion officials as Duelle Block, Robert Goodenow and Pawel Tordoff. No ages were given. Block was a mill operator, Goodenow operated a forklift and Tordoff, who was found Friday morning, operated a packing machine, company officials said.

The source and cause of the blast is unknown, according to Derrick Clark, the vice president of operations at Didion. “Given the scale of damage, it’s tat the Didion Milling Plant remained under investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the search continued for one person who was listed missing. Sixteen employees were working when the blast occurred around 11 p.m. at the plant that processes corn for ethanol and other uses.

ADVERTISEMENT

--

This probably won’t be any help to you, but just in case. This is the 2014 inspection that led to the $2500 fine for a violation of standards related to ‘electrical protective device.’ I call the OSHA guy in Chicago and he didn’t have any further detail on whether it might show they had had a problem at that time with a possible ignition sources. It could have been something that wouldn’t have been an ignition source. It might be useful later to have them on the record saying it wasn’t an ignition source violation.

Didion was fined $2,500 following a 2014 inspection for a violation of standards listed as “serious” by OSHA that was related to an “electrical protective device.” The company also faced fines from OSHA in 2011 for failing to install equipment to protect workers from dust that can ignite and explode.

The 2011 OSHA inspection report said Didion didn’t keep its corn processing facility “free from recognized hazards that caused or were likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Employees were exposed to the hazards associated with dust explosion, deflagration or other fire hazards.”

Six filters set up to collect dust in the facility weren’t equipped with explosion protective systems and conveyor equipment wasn’t properly bonded to ducts that are used to control particulate matter, inspectors said then.

Records show Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case was closed in September 2013. The records also show that in 2011 OSHA informally settled without fines several citations alleging Didion didn’t provide adequate respiratory protection for employees.

The company also faced sanctions for environmental violations.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2010 Didion agreed to pay the state $1.05 million to settle state Department of Justice lawsuits alleging the company violated air and water pollution regulations dozens of times over the previous decade. The air violations related to inadequate measures to prevent dust from escaping the plant and polluting the air outside. The water violations concerned pollution from Didion’s nearby ethanol operation.

Despite Didion’s history of environmental violations, the state helped the company win $5.6 million in stimulus funding to expand its milling and ethanol facilities, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has reported.

Grain storage and processing can be hazardous. While one of the biggest risks involves workers being engulfed in grain silos, grain dust is the main source of explosions in processing and storage operations, according to OSHA.

The dust can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on surfaces. Overheated machine bearings, motors, misaligned conveyor belts, welding and cutting are typical ignition sources.

A small explosion can shake loose caked dust, creating dust clouds that ignite in a much larger secondary blast.

In the last 35 years, over 500 grain dust explosions have been recorded at grain handling facilities in the U.S., killing more than 180 people and injuring more than 675, according to OSHA.

On Monday, two days before the blast, firefighters from four area departments responded to a fire in a dryer system at the plant, Doucette said. Firefighters were on the scene for more than four hours, he said.

Didion employs about 225 people in facilities in Jefferson, Columbia and Green Lake counties. Construction of the Cambria milling facility, for the manufacture of “value-added” products such as corn grits, cornmeal and corn flours, was completed in 1991.

The Red Cross was assisting family members and others affected by the tragedy, including providing licensed mental health professionals, at the First Presbyterian Church, where a prayer vigil was held Thursday evening. A fund for the victims and their family has also been established at National Exchange Bank in Cambria.