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GRAIN ELEVATORS EXPLOSIONS AND/OR FIRES
A series of fires and explosions at several grain elevators in December 1977 and January 1978 resulted in the deaths of 62 individuals and injuries to 53 others. In response to these tragedies, the subcommittee conducted nine days of oversight hearings in 1978 to ascertain the causes of these fires and explosions, and to determine how the health and safety of grain elevator employees could be improved. The following individuals testified before the subcommittee: January 24, 1979—Washington, D.C.
Mr. Leland Bartelt, Federal Grain Inspection Service, U.S.
Mr. David Hawkins, Assistant Administrator, Environmental
Dr. Eula Bingham, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.
Prof. Richard Ginnold, University of Wisconsin School for
Lt. Goy. James Fitzmorris.
Mr. Sheldon Berens, vice president, the Continental Grain
Mr. Max Spencer, vice president, North American Grain Division, Continental Grain Co.
Mr. William Phillips, safety director, the Continental Grain Co. Mr. Edward S. Hyde, fire prevention district supervisor, Office of Fire Protection, State of Louisiana.
Mr. Joseph V. Tranchina, fire safety inspector, Office of Fire Protection, State of Louisiana.
Mr. James Coerver, director, Bureau of Environmental Services, Louisiana Air Control Commission.
Mr. Gustav von Bodungen, the Quality Section, Louisiana Air Control Commission.
Dr. Gary McKown, Chief of ARADCOM, Resident Operations Office, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Mr. Ronald Eaton, Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).
Mr. Gilbert Dozier, commissioner of agriculture, State of
March 1, 1978—Washington, D.C.
Mr. Robert J. Anderson, chief engineer, the Andersons, Mau
Mr. George J. Grabowski, vice president, Protection Systems Division, Fenwal, Inc., Ashland, Mass.
Dr. Delwyn D. Bluhm, Iowa State University, Ames Laboratory, Ames, Iowa. March 14, 1978—Washington, D.C.
Mr. George Wood, chairman, management team on elevator explosions and fires, National Grain and Feed Association. Mr. James E. Maness, director of technical services, National Grain and Feed Association.
Mr. Robert F. Hubbard, division vice president/manager of operations, Cargill, Inc. March 22, 1979—Washington, D.C.
Mr. James T. Gillice, loss prevention director, Alliance of
Mr. Arthur Spiegelman, vice president and chief engineer,
Dr. Eula Bingham, Assistant Secretary, Occupational Safety
Mr. Howard McGuigan, legislative representative, AFL-CIO.
Mr. Joseph Leonard, safety director, International Longshoremen's Association.
Mr. Peter Smific, secretary/treasurer, American Federation of Grain Millers.
Mr. John Albertson, American Federation of Government Employees.
Ms. Margaret Seminario, industrial hygienist, AFL-CIO. Mr. John Cummings III, counsel, legal committee for the Continental Grain disaster.
Mr. Jim Wysoki, plaintiffs' legal committee for the Continental grain disaster. Additionally, the following individuals submitted statements for the record:
Mr. D. D. Mauger, vice president and secretary, Association of Mill & Elevator Mutual Insurance Companies, Chicago, Ill.
Mr. David F. Brenner, Millers Mutual Insurance Co., Harrisburg, Pa.
Mr. Martin E. Grimes, assistant vice president-government affairs, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Mr. Richard E. Stevens, assistant vice president-standards.
Mr. Calvin B. Parnell, Jr., Associate professor, Agricultural
Mr. A. S. Townsend, C.P.C.U., president, National Agra Underwriters, Inc., Camp Hill, Pa.
Interest in the safety and health of workers in grain elevators has increased substantially since the series of recent grain elevator explosions and fires. Workers in grain elevators are exposed to many occupational safety and health hazards that endanger their lives. Safety hazards include the high risk of explosions and/or fires, falls into grain bins which often result in suffocation, and injuries from unguarded and old machinery. Health hazards result, not only from the large quantities of ever-present dust, but also from the pesticides, toxic fumigants, and rodenticides that have been added to the grain. These problems have existed for many years, but until recently, the number of fatalities and injuries occurring at any one time had not been large enough to attract public attention.
A review of past experiences shows that grain elevator dust explosions averaged about 6.7 per year from 1938 to 1946. Then the average fell to about two per year from 1947 to 1955 and increased to about eight per year from 1958 to 1975. In House hearings, Dr. Delwyn Bluhm of Iowa State University pointed out that:
Grain elevators rank first in industrial dust explosions; that is, in regard to the number of occurrences, the number of people injured and the amount of property damage. Five times as many occur in grain elevators as occur in the flour and starch industries and more than 1.5 times as many as in the feed and cereal mills.
Grain elevator fires are almost 500 times more numerous than grain dust explosions. Over 29,000 fires occurred between 1964 and 1973 and this resulted in an average of approximately 2,900 fires per year. Many more fires may not have been reported.
Since 1976, the number of explosions and fires in grain elevators has increased significantly. The recent series of explosions and fires in which more than 60 persons were killed and many more injured has elicited serious concern about the health and safety conditions of those persons who are employed in the grain industry. The accidents at the four grain elevators and two feed mills that led to the deaths and injuries, and damage losses shown below are described in detail in Appendix B. The damage at Capital Elevator No. 4 was caused by fire, not an explosion, and there were no injuries or fatalities.3
1 Estimates obtained from various sources, not verified.
1 Hearings before the Subcommittee on Compensation, Health and Safety of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, 95th Congress, 2d session (1978) (hereinafter cited as “Hearings”)
2 Hearings, p. 417
3 U.S. General Accounting Office, “Grain Dust Explosions-An Unsolved Problem,” Report to the Congress. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, March 21, 1979, p. 3-4.