February 9, 2009 The Pump Handle 1Comment

February 7th marked the one-year anniversary of the explosion of the Imperial Sugar plant that killed 14 workers in Port Wentworth, Georgia. (This post has links to our coverage of the tragedy.) In the Associated Press, Russ Bynum checks up on explosion survivor Jamie Butler, who still needs painkillers, steroid injections, and daily physical therapy as he recovers from being burnt all over his body. Butler lost his brother, John Calvin Butler Jr., in the blast, and says he knows the disaster could have been prevented.

In the Savannah Morning News, U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman and CEO John Bresland describes conditions that let the blast to occur. Management allowed dangerous accumulations of combustible sugar dust, even though smaller fires and explosions in the company’s facilities had already occurred. For the CSB, a federal investigative agency, the pattern is all too familiar:

This was the fourth explosion we investigated since 2003 where a terrible loss of life resulted from complacency, a lack of awareness of the dangers of dust, and a lack of diligence in implementing fire codes and investigating small fires and near-misses.

Just before the anniversary of this blast, U.S. Representatives George Miller, John Barrow, and Lynn Woolsey reintroduced The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act (HR 849), which would require OSHA to issue rules regulating combustible dusts in industrial settings like sugar facilities. Their press release notes that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718 others.

In other news:

Associated Press: Army officials report that troops’ suicide rate is the highest in nearly three decades, after 128 soldiers killed themselves last year.  (Also see The Edge of the American West for more on how the Army is under stress.)

The New Yorker: Tinnitus — phantom noise in the ear, usually accompanying hearing loss — affects nearly half of the soldiers who were exposed to blasts while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reuters Health: A study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that “nursing professionals exposed to general hospital cleaning products and instrument disinfectants at work are at increased risk of developing asthma.”

Washington Post: Many of the thousands of workers who migrated to Russia from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia now face unemployment; others toil under hazardous circumstances or face difficulties in collecting the wages they were promised.

Reuters: The herbicide Paraquat, which the World Health Organization classifies as moderately hazardous for acute toxicity, is widely used on plantations in China, India, the Philippins, and Malaysia; human rights groups say workers exposed to it suffer from problems ranging from rashes to kidney disease.

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