Dust danger closes plant

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Staff Reporter

GRAMERCY – Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently ordered the partial closure of a Gramercy sugar refinery out of concern for potentially combustible dust found at the facility.

Representatives from Imperial Sugar Co., the operators of the plant, said it closed down its powdered sugar operations at the Gramercy refinery after an inspection from OSHA last Friday that detected a “very thick dust level.”

Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA said that the dust caused an “imminent danger situation” for workers at the plant. He said Imperial agreed to remove employees from the area and deactivate the equipment so that it could be cleaned.

Foulke said the part of the plant where the dust was present would probably be closed for several days, while crews from the plant and OSHA stage a cleanup effort.

The partial closure of the Gramercy plant comes on the heels of an explosion at a sugar refinery, operated by Imperial Sugar Co., in Savannah, Ga., in February. The explosion, which claimed the lives of 13 workers and injured several others, was triggered by high levels of dust that ignited. It also prompted OSHA to inspect hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard.

Representatives with Imperial Sugar said in a statement to the associated press that the company is proceeding with an abundance of caution at the Gramercy facility because of what happened in Georgia. They said OSHA inspections have helped Imperial Sugar develop improved practices for sugar dust management.

John Sheptor, president and CEO of Imperial Sugar, flew into Baton Rouge late last week, and will be at the Gramercy plant to oversee the beginnings of the cleanup effort personally.

Sheptor said the Gramercy facility employs 275 people and about 100 contractors. He said the shutdown would not directly affect any personnel because no one is directly assigned to that part of the plant. He said the area that was shut down represents around seven percent of the plant’s total output.