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Combustible Dust Behind Fatal Didion Milling Explosion that Killed 5 in Wisconsin


Investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have determined that combustible corn dust set off a massive explosion that killed 5 workers at the Didion Milling plant in Cambria, Wisconsin last year.

Equipment Malfunction Sent Corn Dust into the Air

The May 31st tragedy occurred around 11:00 p.m., shortly after some of the 19 employees on site at the time began to notice the smell of smoke.

Several of the workers were inspecting a corn grinder as the possible source when an air filter flew off the device, sending corn dust into the air.

Flames then began shooting out of the machine’s air intake line.

“I Thought I was the Only One that Made It”

An unidentified superintendent was about to issue an evacuation order when the first of several explosions occurred, quickly reducing the plant to rubble.

“It just kept exploding. Just sounded like thunder, like constant thunder. And I saw concrete and stuff blast,” the superintendent told investigators, per a CSB Factual Investigative Update published on April 30th. “I just, I thought I was the only one that made it. I thought the whole place was done, you know.”

Five workers died in connection with the explosions or the collapse of the building.

All 14 surviving workers suffered injuries that ranged from minor to life-threatening.

Trump Administration Abandoned Combustible Dust Standard

The initial explosion occurred in Didion Milling’s “dry corn milling” facility, where raw corn is processed to create a variety of corn products.

Corn milling produces corn dust, which is known to be combustible and can even explode under certain circumstances.

Combustible dust has been tied to a number of serious industrial explosions, including the 2008 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion near Savannah, Georgia that killed 14 people and injured dozens of others, some seriously.

CSB investigators characterized the Imperial Sugar explosion as “entirely preventable,” blaming the tragedy on massive amounts of combustible dust that had been allowed to accumulate throughout the facility

“If the dust was not allowed to build up, this terrible accident would not have happened and we would not have had the terrible injuries that we saw,” CSB Chairman John Bresland said at the time.

Shortly after the Imperial Sugar disaster, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration proposed a combustible dust standard intended to prevent similar explosions and fires.

However, the Trump Administration abandoned those rulemaking efforts just a few months after the Didion Milling explosion, purportedly due to a lack of resources and other priorities.

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