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Tuesday, July 11, 2017 @ 12:07 PM gHale

Smoke rises from a large fire at International Paper Saturday. Firefighters from Cedar Rapids and around the area battled the fire for a good part of the day. 

A stubborn fire at International Paper’s Cedar Rapids, IA, facility continued to burn for most of the day, officials said.

Cedar Rapids firefighters initially got the call of an industrial fire at 8 a.m. Saturday. But by Saturday night, the fire at the paper milling facility was under control but continued to burn, city officials said.

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The fire posed no threat to the rest of the plant or to the community, officials said.

Cedar Rapids Fire Department deployed all six engines and received assistance from the Ely, Fairfax, Hiawatha, Marion, Mount Vernon and Swisher fire departments, as well as Area Ambulance. 

Firefighters planned to work through the night to contain the fire.

Crews at the scene were working to move paper and cardboard out of the buildings, officials said.

One firefighter suffered minor injuries and ended up treated and released. There were no other injuries in the incident.

Cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Thursday, July 6, 2017 @ 03:07 PM gHale

Each of the teams participating in the hackathon sat at a large round table to facilitate collaboration.
Photo by Brookhaven National Laboratory

Coding “sprinters” took their marks at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, starting the first of five days of nonstop programming from early morning until night.

During this coding marathon, or “hackathon,” these teams of computational, theoretical, and domain scientists, software developers, and graduate and postdoctoral students learned how to program their scientific applications on devices for accelerated computing called graphics processing units (GPUs).

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Guiding them toward the finish line were GPU programming experts from national labs, universities, and technology companies who donated their time to serve as mentors.

The goal by the end of the week was for the teams new to GPU programming to leave with their applications running on GPUs — or at least with the knowledge of how to do so — and for the teams who had come with their applications already accelerated on GPUs to leave with an optimized version.

GPU Computing Era
GPU-accelerated computing, which is the combined use of GPUs and central processing units (CPUs), is increasingly being used as a way to run applications much faster. Computationally intensive portions of an application are offloaded from the CPU, which consists of a few cores optimized for serial processing (tasks execute one at a time in sequential order), to the GPU, which contains thousands of smaller, more efficient cores optimized for parallel processing (multiple tasks are processed simultaneously).

However, while GPUs potentially offer a very high memory bandwidth (rate at which data can be stored in and read from memory by a processor) and arithmetic performance for a wide range of applications, they are currently difficult to program. One of the challenges is developers cannot simply take the existing code that runs on a CPU and have it automatically run on a GPU; they need to rewrite or adapt portions of the code. Another challenge is efficiently getting data onto the GPUs in the first place, as data transfer between the CPU and GPU can be slow. Though parallel programming standards such as OpenACCand GPU advances such as hardware and software for managing data transfer make these processes easier, GPU-accelerated computing is still a relatively new concept.

That is where “Brookathon” comes into play. The event, which started June 5, ended up hosted by Brookhaven Lab’s Computational Science Initiative (CSI) and jointly organized with DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and the University of Delaware, came in.

“The architecture of GPUs, which were originally designed to display graphics in video games, is quite different from that of CPUs,” said CSI computational scientist Meifeng Lin, who coordinated Brookathon with the help of an organizing committee and was a member of one of the teams participating in the event. “People are not used to programming GPUs as much as CPUs. The goal of hackathons like Brookathon is to lessen the learning curve, enabling the use of GPUs on next-generation high-performance-computing (HPC) systems for scientific applications.”

Team Lineup
Twenty-two applications ended up submitted for a spot at Brookathon, half of which came from Brookhaven Lab or nearby Stony Brook University teams. Brookathon received the highest number of applications of any of the hackathons to date, Lin said. Ultimately, a review committee of OpenACC members accepted applications from 10 teams, each of which brought a different application to accelerate on GPUs:
• Team AstroGPU from Stony Brook University: Codes for simulating astrophysical fluid flows
• Team Grid Makers from Brookhaven, Fermilab, Boston University, and the University of Utah (Lin’s team): A multigrid solver for linear equations and a general data-parallel library (called Grid), both related to application development for lattice QCD under DOE’s Exascale Computing Project
• Team HackDpotato from Stony Brook University: A genetic algorithm for protein simulation
• Team Lightning Speed OCT (for optical coherence tomography) from Lehigh University: A program for real-time image processing and three-dimensional image display of biological tissues
• Team MUSIC (for MUScl for Ion Collision) from Brookhaven and Stony Brook University: A code for simulating the evolution of the quark-gluon plasma produced at Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) — a DoE Office of Science User Facility
• Team NEK/CEED from DoE’s Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Fluid dynamics and electromagnetic codes (Nek5000 and NekCEM, respectively) for modeling small modular reactors (SMR) and graphene-based surface materials — related to two DoE Exascale Computing Projects, Center for Efficient Exascale Discretizations (CEED) and ExaSM
• Team Stars from the STAR from Brookhaven, Central China Normal University, and Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics: An online cluster-finding algorithm for the energy-deposition clusters measured at Brookhaven’s Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC (STAR) detector, which searches for signatures of the quark-gluon plasma
• Team The Fastest Trigger of the East from the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Lancaster University, and Queen Mary University of London: Software that reads out data in real time from 40,000 photosensors that collect light generated by neutrino particles, discards the useless majority of the data, and sends the useful bits to be written to disk for future analysis; the software will be used in a particle physics experiment in Japan (Hyper-Kamiokande)
• Team UD-AccSequencer from the University of Delaware: A code for an existing next-generation-sequencing tool for aligning thousands of DNA sequences (BarraCUDA)
• Team Uduh from the University of Delaware and the University of Houston: A code for molecular dynamics simulations, which scientists use to study the interactions between molecules

“The domain scientists—not necessarily computer science programmers—who come together for five days to migrate their scientific codes to GPUs are very excited to be here,” said For co-creator, organizer, and UD professor Sunita Chandrasekaran. “From running into compiler and runtime errors during programming and reaching out to compiler developers for help to participating in daily scrum sessions to provide progress updates, the teams really have a hands-on experience in which they can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.”  

Let the Games Begin

Each team had at least three members and worked on porting their applications to GPUs for the first time or optimizing applications already running on GPUs. As is the case in all of the hackathons, participants did not need to have prior GPU programming experience to attend the event. Two mentors were assigned to each team in the weeks preceding the hackathon to help the participants prepare. In addition to Brookhaven, mentors represented Cornell University; DoE’s Los Alamos, Sandia, and Oak Ridge national laboratories; Mentor Graphics Corporation; NVIDIA Corporation (also the top sponsor of the event); the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre; the University of Delaware; the University of Illinois; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“You meet GPU experts at conferences but here you sit with them for a whole week as they share their expertise in a hands-on setting,” said Lin. “Because GPU computing is still fairly new to Brookhaven, we did not have a lot of local experts that could serve as mentors. We were fortunate to have Fernanda and Sunita help recruit such a great group of mentors.”

Many of the mentors who volunteered for Brookathon have developed GPU-capable compilers (computer programs that transform source code written in one programming language into instructions that computer processors can understand) and have helped define programming standards for HPC.

Degree of Difficulty
Yet they too can appreciate the difficulty in programming scientific applications on GPUs, as mentor Kyle Friedline, a research assistant in Chandrasekaran’s Computational Research and Programming Lab at the University of Delaware, said, “My team’s code is really tough because of its large size and complex data structures that result in memory allocation problems.”

While most of the teams had prior experience in GPU programming, a few had to start with the basics. Especially for those novice teams, mentorship was key.

“All of our group members were new to GPU programming,” said MUSIC team member Chun Shen, a research associate in Brookhaven’s Nuclear Theory Group. “Our code was originally written in the C++ programming language with a rather complex class structure. We found that it was very hard to port the complex data structures to GPU with OpenACC, and the compiler did not provide us with useful error messages. Only with the support of our direct mentors and through fruitful discussions with other teams’ mentors were we able to simplify our code structure and successfully port our code to GPU within such a short amount of time.”

At the end of each day, team representatives gave presentations to the entire group so anyone could chime in to offer advice, as many teams shared common challenges. On the last day, the teams gave final presentations describing their accomplishments over the week, lessons learned along the way, and plans going forward.

“The teams worked really hard with their mentors and accomplished a lot in five days,” said Lin. “By the end of the week, all 10 teams had their codes running on GPUs and eight of them achieved code speedups, as much as 150-fold, over the original codes. Even the mentors felt that they learned something, and some already expressed interest in serving again at future hackathons.”

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 04:07 PM gHale

Two federal inspectors became ill earlier this year while investigating a chain of industrial barrel refurbishing plants in Wisconsin.

One month earlier, other inspectors were inside the plants but said they didn’t get to see regular activities as required by law. Instead, they said, it appeared the company was staging operations to make it look like regulations were being followed.

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Concerned the company engaged in a cover-up and the plant’s true operations presented a risk to residents, federal prosecutors asked a federal magistrate judge to approve search warrants authorizing surprise inspections to collect samples. The judge approved them in early May.

That move came after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in February uncovered dangerous working conditions and environmental problems at the plants and three others in Arkansas, Indiana and Tennessee, all part of the chain. The facilities are operated by Container Life Cycle Management (CLCM), a joint venture majority owned by industrial packaging giant Greif Inc.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies sent inspectors to the CLCM Mid-America Steel Drum plants in St. Francis, Oak Creek and Milwaukee a short time later.

New details of the EPA inspections are outlined in reports, emails and other documents made public in the warrants filed by the EPA in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in May.

In seeking warrants to do surprise inspections, EPA officials cited the Journal Sentinel investigation as well as previous environmental violations.

Refurbishing Drums
The plants refurbish 55-gallon metal drums and large plastic totes, cleaning them out for future use or to recycle them. The drums and totes are supposed to arrive empty, but they routinely come in “heavy,” with a significant amount of chemicals remaining inside, according to documents and workers.

Dangerous chemicals have been mixed together and washed down floor drains and plumes of smoke from unknown chemical reactions have been released into neighborhoods, workers said. Fires have erupted at the plants, fouling the air and posing a danger to nearby homes, the investigation found.

The Journal Sentinel findings were the result of 16 hours of audio recordings by a whistle-blower; hundreds of pages of documents, including internal injury reports and safety audits; as well as public records and interviews with workers, regulators and experts.

Greif spokeswoman Debbie Crow said the company has not yet received findings from the EPA and the company “will work with them to remedy any issues as they arise.”

EPA officials would not comment on the ongoing investigation other than to say they don’t yet have results from samples of material that were collected during the inspections.

Federal and state regulators inspected the plants in Milwaukee shortly after the Journal Sentinel investigation.

The inspectors from the EPA, U.S. Department of Transportation and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources were trying to determine if there were violations of federal hazardous waste handling and emissions laws at the plants.

Normal Operation Appear Blocked
At each plant, the regulators said, there were indications they were not seeing typical operations, which they are supposed to be able to see under the law.

Inspectors noted they were barred from entering the plants until a company attorney arrived.

Barrels appeared to have been selected to avoid any containing hazardous waste, they said. Containers had new-looking white labels on them with the words “non-regulated waste.” And a worker operating a furnace at one plant happened to be “on break” during the inspection, according to court documents.

Operations “appeared to EPA inspectors to be ‘staged’ to create the appearance of compliance with applicable environmental regulations,” documents said.

Even with those efforts, the inspectors spotted possible violations of the law: Workers were guessing by “feel” if a barrel contained chemicals; fumes wafted from some barrels; possibly harmful waste was streaming down a storm drain; and records required by law to be kept were missing.

Hazardous Waste
And by the company’s own admission, one of the facilities was dealing with hazardous waste without a permit. The company’s attorney wrote in a letter after the inspection the company is now applying for a hazardous waste permit.

“This suggests a failure in the past to characterize properly wastes present at this facility,” the warrant application said.

Inspectors arrived at the plant in the 2300 block of W. Cornell St. the morning of Feb. 24. After waiting for the lawyer to arrive, the inspectors entered the plant to find that operation was shut down, so there was little to observe.

Four days later, the inspectors went to the St. Francis plant. They had to wait an hour while the company called its lawyer to appear.

The inspectors believed the drums being processed on that day were “cherry-picked” so they did not include any hazardous waste. But inspectors also saw barrels fuming at the St. Francis plant, indicating that drums were not emptied.

An inspector went to the roof to examine the smokestack scrubber, which is designed to clean the exhaust gas as it leaves the plant. He discovered fluid coming off the scrubber was going into a pipe and then a storm drain.

“The reason the system was set up to leak in this way was not made clear during the inspection,” the inspection report said.

At the Oak Creek inspection on March 2, inspectors identified several areas of concern. Workers used metal blades to cut the drums containing unknown and potentially flammable chemicals, creating a risk of explosion.

EPA investigators Aaron Price and Maureen O’Neill interviewed several residents in their homes, “where we believe the remnants of the exhaust had accumulated for years in the carpet and upholstery.”

Neighbors Health Issues
Residents reported health complaints including dizziness, itching, watery eyes, rashes on exposed skin, nausea, lymphoma, vitamin D issues, cardiovascular disease and throat cancer, according to documents.

Price and O’Neill both reported that they felt sick after being in the neighborhood around St. Francis plant. O’Neill said her tongue swelled, her throat constricted and she was suffering from “unbearable” throbbing and numbness in her hands and feet.

She asked for Benadryl at the front desk of her hotel that night. The staff offered to take her to a hospital or pharmacy. A hotel driver took her to get an antihistamine. The swelling went down the next day but the pain in the hands and feet persisted until she left the assignment.

Price, too, reported feeling ill with headaches, dizziness and breathing difficulty, nausea, sleep difficulty and trouble focusing.

A neighbor of the plant told Price and O’Neill the smell from the plant’s emissions was strong enough that he could taste it. He couldn’t get away from it, even in his house with the doors and windows closed.

A secretary at Willow Glen Elementary School, which is a half-mile south of the plant, called the Fire Department to investigate one day this year because the plant’s odor was so strong in the school.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 11:06 AM gHale

A fifth worker has died as a result of an explosion May 31 at the Didion Milling corn milling plant in Cambria, WI, officials said.

Carlos “Charly” Nunez died at the hospital on June 23 from injuries sustained in the blast.

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Three people died and several were injured in the initial explosion and fire that occurred during the night shift at the plant. A fourth worker died in the hospital shortly after the explosion.

While an official cause of an explosion at a Wisconsin corn mill is not known yet, company officials faced federal safety inspectors six years ago for not taking precautions against dust explosions.

The plant was cited by OSHA investigators in 2011 for exposing workers to dust explosion hazards.

The plant processes corn for ethanol and other uses.

Dust explosions are a serious problem in handling grain, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. There were five grain dust explosions in the United States last year and two of the incidents resulted in fatalities, Purdue University said in an annual report. Keeping facilities clean of dust and equipment in good working order to reduce the possibility of igniting the dust are critical to preventing explosions, the report said.

Dust explosions can occur when high concentrations of dust particles are suspended in the air in a confined space during grain handling and a spark from something like a cigarette butt ignites it, according to the USDA’s website.

Rubble of a corn mill plant the day after a Wednesday explosion in Cambria, WI, shown in this image taken from a video by WISN-TV.
AP Photo

Monday, June 19, 2017 @ 02:06 PM gHale

Fire heavily damaged a dairy operation in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, that processes milk from farmers.

The main production facility at Blackwell Dairy was destroyed in the late-night blaze, fire officials said.

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Firefighters got the call and when they reached the scene, they were met by towering flames, heavy smoke and small explosions of gas tanks or tires as they arrived at the facility in Barnhartvale on Kamloops’ east side, said Kamloops Fire and Rescue Capt. Jeff Bell.

The fire was “ugly,” because transport trucks parked next to the building were also blazing and spilled diesel fuel created rivers of fire running down the road, Bell said.

There were no injuries in the incident and no livestock were lost. Cause of the fire has not been determined and Bell said an investigation is ongoing.

The Blackwell Dairy website said its line of milk, sour cream and cheeses is sold in communities across southern and southeastern B.C.

Thursday, June 8, 2017 @ 03:06 PM gHale

An explosion at the Albemarle Chemical Plant in Tyrone, PA, left three workers injured Monday night after an equipment malfunction, officials said.

The blast occurred Monday at 10:30 p.m. The cause of the blast is not clear right now, officials said.

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The call came shortly after “some kind of pump blew up” at the plant, spraying hot oil onto three employees, Tyrone Borough Police Officer Scott Beall said.

The workers ended up burned with hot oil, said Blair County emergency officials. Company officials said the three people were taken to UPMC Altoona by ambulance. Two of the workers were released shortly afterwards with minor burns and lacerations.

A third worker had more serious burn injuries and is currently being treated at the Burn Center at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.

His injuries, however, are not life threatening, officials said.

Albemarle plant Manager Randy Andrews said it has been more than a year since an employee last suffered a recordable injury at the plant.

“This is a very rare thing,” he said of Monday’s accident. “Safety is our No. 1 priority here.”

The company released the following statement:

“At Albemarle the safety of our employees, contractors and our neighbors is of highest importance. We are thoroughly investigating the incident to determine the cause and take action to prevent this type of incident in the future.”

The Albermarle plant in Tyrone employs over 180 people. Production capabilities range from kilo-lab scale through hundreds of metric tons per year, according to the company’s website. With over 30 reactors, ranging in size from 30 gallons through 4,000 gallons, various materials of construction, and almost every unit operation available, the site is especially equipped for complex, multi-step synthesis of agricultural actives and other agricultural intermediates. Chemistries of all types are performed and quick turnaround is a key area of expertise of the site.

Thursday, June 8, 2017 @ 03:06 PM gHale

Firefighters work at the scene of an ammonia leak at a food plant in Streamwood, IL.

An ammonia leak at a food processing plant in Streamwood, IL, sent seven people to the hospital, fire officials said.

The leak occurred at 11:30 p.m. Monday night at Fresh Express in the 1100 block of East Lake Street. When firefighters arrived, building employees said the leak was coming from the refrigeration system and several workers were complaining of having difficulty breathing.

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The emergency call then elevated to a hazardous material incident, which brought additional firefighters and technicians from other fire departments, with large fans used to remove the fumes from the structure.

Five employees were taken to St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates for treatment. Two firefighters exposed to vapors also ended up transported to the hospital and later released, officials said.

Streamwood Fire Chief Chris Clark said firefighters remained at the scene Tuesday morning ventilating the building and trying to contain the leaking chemical, which he said was anhydrous ammonia used as a refrigerant.

No one outside the facility had been in harm’s way from the incident as crews were able to dissipate the leak through the building, said Streamwood Fire Battalion Chief Joe Ratzek.

The company had contracted with a HazMat cleanup company to clean out the building, Ratzek said, and the work was ongoing Tuesday. No one would be let into the building until after their work was complete, Ratzek said.

The factory processes foods, including packaged salads and vegetables, officials said.

Monday, June 5, 2017 @ 05:06 PM gHale

It could take extra days to contain and clean up a Thursday spill involving isomerate, a gasoline component, at a Shreveport, LA, refinery, officials said.

The Louisiana highway department has been asked to bring in barricades to keep closed the section of Jewella Avenue near the plant.

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Crews still were working late Thursday night to transfer the chemical out of the leaking tank and into another tank at Calumet Specialty Products Partners’ lubricants and wax refinery on Midway Avenue.

It is a “slow and steady process,” refinery spokesman Lyndon Johnson said. He had no estimate on when the transfer will be completed.

There were no injuries in the incident and there was no evacuation ordered in the neighboring community.

“We are basically trained to handle spills and releases,” said refinery spokesman Lyndon Johnson. “And we have our fire brigade engaged in this, and the Shreveport Fire Department engaged. We’ll take care of this as quickly as possible and as safe as possible.”

Authorities blocked off Jewella Avenue between Doris Street and Midway Avenue because Shreveport Fire Department has a water supply line across the road.

Meantime, the plant’s emergency response crews have been applying foam to minimize evaporation of the isomerate.

The plan was to start transferring the chemical from one tank to another starting at 5:30 p.m.

A leak was discovered about 10:30 a.m. Thursday in a tank on the west of the plant site. A Calumet spokesman said at least 90 barrels of the chemical spilled. It comes out as a mist and can create a vapor cloud. 

Crews have spent the day trying to minimize the vapor cloud, which is highly flammable. Plus, high vapor concentrations can irritate eyes and the respiratory tract and cause other health issues. 

“Our first priority is the safety of our employees and the local community,” said refinery manager Dan Yoder. “We have taken all necessary precautions to minimize risk to the public.

The appropriate government agencies have been notified about the spill, the company said.

Concentrated, prolonged or deliberate inhalation of isomerate, commonly known as a naphtha or petroleum naphtha, may cause brain or nervous system damage, according to the materials data sheet. The chemical also is a skin and eye irritant.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners processes crude oil and other materials into lubricants, solvents and waxes used in consumer, industrial and automotive products and produces gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The Indianapolis-based company has 13 facilities in Northwest Louisiana, northwest Wisconsin, northern Montana, western Pennsylvania, Texas, New Jersey and Oklahoma.

Friday, June 2, 2017 @ 10:06 AM gHale

Rubble of a corn mill plant the day after a Wednesday explosion in Cambria, WI, shown in this image taken from a video by WISN-TV.
AP Photo

While an official cause of an explosion at a Wisconsin corn mill late Wednesday night is not known yet, company officials faced federal safety inspectors six years ago for not taking precautions against dust explosions.

The blast at the Didion Milling Plant in Cambria, WI, a rural village about 45 miles northeast of Madison, left at least two people dead. Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards confirmed the body of the second worker was found late Thursday afternoon. Emergency crews were still searching for a third worker. Nearly a dozen other employees were taken to area hospitals. None of the workers have been identified.

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The cause of the blast remained unknown as of Thursday afternoon, Didion officials said. U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigators were on the scene.

Cambria Fire Chief Cody Doucette said Thursday night a smaller fire occurred in a different part of the facility on Monday. Investigators were working to determine whether there was a link between that fire and Wednesday night’s explosion, Doucette said.

“The safety and security of our employees is our top priority,” Didion Vice President of Operations Derrick Clark said. “Over the past 44 years, the Didion team has grown to be a close-knit family, and we ask for your prayers during this difficult time.”

The plant processes corn for ethanol and other uses. A review of online OSHA records shows the plant was cited in January 2011 for exposing its workers to dust explosion hazards. The records state plant filters lacked an explosion protective system.

The agency ordered the mill to correct the problem by April 2011. The records showed Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case closed in September 2013. OSHA hasn’t cited the plant for anything since, the records show.

Dust explosions are a serious problem in handling grain, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. There were five grain dust explosions in the United States last year and two of the incidents resulted in fatalities, Purdue University said in an annual report. Keeping facilities clean of dust and equipment in good working order to reduce the possibility of igniting the dust are critical to preventing explosions, the report said.

Dust explosions can occur when high concentrations of dust particles are suspended in the air in a confined space during grain handling and a spark from something like a cigarette butt ignites it, according to the USDA’s website.

Emails sent to several Didion officials Thursday and a voicemail left for Vice President of Sales Jeff Dillon weren’t immediately returned. A note posted on the company’s website said the company would be closed until further notice.

Nearly two dozen fire departments and four police departments responded. Cambria Village President Glen Williams said the fire was contained by early Thursday and there were no evacuations in the area.

Doucette said some area residents briefly lost power after the blast. Schools in the Cambria-Friesland district also closed Thursday because of the incident.

The number of employees inside the building during the explosion fluctuated through the day Thursday.

Sheriff Richards initially said 16 people were in the plant. Village of Cambria officials later said 17 were inside before revising the number back to 16.

In addition to the two fatalities, two other plant employees were treated and released. Eleven more were taken to area hospitals via ambulance and helicopter.

Cambria is a community of about 770 people. Williams, the village president, said the plant is an economic anchor for the entire area.

“Quite a few of the employees live in the village and surrounding area. So, it’s going to affect the whole area. Not just the shock of the event, but the economic hardship to the families,” Williams said.

The company employs more than 200 people. It has offices and a soybean plant in Jefferson County to the southwest, the mill and an ethanol plant in Cambria and an oil packaging plant in Green Lake County to the north, according to the company website.

Brothers John and Dow Didion began Didion Milling in 1972 and construction on the Cambria corn mill was completed in 1991, according to the website. The company’s corn products are used in brewing beer as well as in making chips, breakfast cereals, bathroom moldings, steel and ethanol.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 @ 10:05 AM gHale

The flash fire at the Delaware City Refinery Company could have been prevented if the refinery had been more proactive in identifying hazards before employees perform maintenance, a new report found.

That was the conclusions reached in findings released from the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) investigation into a 2015 flash fire at the refinery that left one worker severely burned.

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Maintenance is one of the leading causes of injury when working with chemicals, said CSB chairperson Vanessa Sutherland.

“More than one third of the incidents investigated by the CSB occurred prior to, during or immediately following maintenance activities,” she said.

A night operator at the refinery suffered severe burns on his face, neck and wrists as the result of the flash fire.

He opened a leaky valve being used to isolate two pieces of equipment undergoing maintenance.

“Shortly after opening the drain valve to the refinery’s sewer system he recalled hearing a pop and seeing a wall of fire advancing toward him,” said CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks. 

He said the worker had unknowingly released a backflow of gas that ignited in a nearby furnace and resulted in the wall of fire.

The CSB’s investigation identified five safety lessons that can apply to high hazard facilities:
• Non-routine operational tasks surrounding maintenance should have standard operating procedures, covering tasks such as emptying, decontaminating, washing, steaming, purging, and draining equipment and vessels.
• For all equipment preparation activities, develop a process that requires preplanning and hazard identification prior to initiating the work.
• When isolating equipment for emptying or decontaminating activities prior to maintenance work, avoid reliance on single block valves. Always consider more protective measures for isolation such as including double blocks or blinds.
• When an equipment preparation task or isolation plan needs to be modified or expanded due to leaking valves or changing conditions, evaluate the hazard.
• Use closed systems such as tanks, drums, flares, control the draining, or relieving of hazardous energy in preparation to isolate equipment for maintenance.

Since the fire, the Delaware City Refinery Company has developed procedures to ensure hazards are identified and mitigated before employees perform maintenance.

“We openly shared details of the actions taken by the refinery with CSB representatives and our workforce, and are distributing the CSB’s “Safety Bulletin” to our employees, to further reinforce our continuing commitment to safety, reliability, and regulatory compliance,” said officials at the refinery’s parent company, PBF Energy.

Click here for more details on the report.