One of the iconic landmarks of Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the Domino Sugar plant and its eponymous neon.
Now Public, quoting various news services, reports that dust in a sugar refinement area in the Domino plant exploded on Friday morning causing a three-alarm fire. There were a few minor injuries to a few employees, and no structural damage to the building itself. The plant is expected to reopen in a week.
Dust can be a powerfully dangerous vector for explosions in many industrial locales ... including breweries.
When barley malt is crushed between rollers for preparation for the mash, a lot of dust is released into the air. Sparks from a mill, all that combustible material, and oxygen is a dangerous sum, as witnessed at the Domino plant. (To Domino's credit, this is the only such occurrence there since the plant was opened in the 1920s.)
Most breweries and brewpubs carefully remove the dust from their mill rooms: positive pressure, industrial exhaust, or simply hooking up a vacuum cleaner, as was done at one small brewpub for which I once brewed.
And cleaning up afterwards ...
Malt dust resting on brewing surfaces and floating in the air is a potential danger for bacterial or wild yeast infections in a brewery. So, clean, clean, and clean some more!
State investigators traced the source of the explosion to a failed bearing in one of the sugar mills. The heat buildup around the bearing ignited the sugar powder in the air and sent a "high-pressure combustion wave" through the plant's duct work, which left the plant as a "fire ball," the report states.
The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Domino Sugar $4,000 for allowing sugar dust to accumulate in its refinery, which is believed to have caused an explosion last year at the Key Highway plant in South Baltimore, according to a state report.
The Nov. 2 explosion echoed across the harbor, and authorities said they suspected sugar dust might have ignited. Three employees suffered minor injuries, several pieces of equipment were destroyed and dozens of windows were shattered in the blast.
The plant's structure was not seriously damaged, but the report released to The Sun under the Public Information Act noted that there was "evidence of the massive pressure" exerted by the explosion that caused walls to crack and bend, and ceilings and floors to misalign.
The MOSHA report indicated state inspectors found that "employees were routinely unable to perform all the cleaning responsibilities" on equipment involved in milling sugar on three floors of the plant from April through October last year.
The report described how the explosion left a residue of "magma-like sugar several inches thick" covering the floors and stairs. Superheated air also ignited pallets of packing material and finished sugar products, the report states.
The explosion caused damage on four floors, and Domino Sugar officials said they expected to spend about $2.5 million to replace windows, the report states.
Domino fined $4,000 over '07 explosion
By Gus G. Sentementes
July 26, 2008