UNION MILLS, Ind. – An explosion has killed one person at an Indiana agricultural facility that stores fertilizer, grain, and feed, the LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office confirmed. The deadly blast occurred in Union Mills, about 50 miles southeast of Chicago.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, but authorities reported that it was confined to a part of the facility that handles grain. The sheriff’s office said that no toxic chemicals or fumes were released in the explosion.
The person killed, James Swank, 67, was an employee of Co-Alliance LLP, operator of the grain elevator. According to the coroner’s report, Mr. Swank was knocked off the 175-foot grain silo tower by the force of the blast, and died of blunt force trauma injuries.
The blast did not set off a fire, authorities said. A deputy told WSBT that the facility was evacuated and all employees at the scene, including two who were being treated for burn injuries, have been accounted for.
The explosion occurred around 1:30 p.m. CT June 24.
The accumulation of dust in industrial facilities is a major concern for federal and state safety regulators. Dust buildup in fertilizer and grain facilities is highly combustible, just as it is in coal mines and plants where production generates a lot of dust. Explosions in factories and grain silos can be triggered by spark, flame, or high heat that ignites airborne particles.
In addition to grain and feed dust, facilities that use candy, sugar, spices, starch, tobacco, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal and a range of metals are bound to strict rules governing the control of dust accumulation.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities.
In April, an explosion at West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people, injured hundreds more, and destroyed parts of the city. The cause of that explosion remains under investigation, but authorities know that the plant was storing several tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer.