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Dust Explosions
A dust explosion is very similar to a gas or vapour cloud explosion, i.e. when a volume of a flammable mixture is ignited, resulting in a rapid pressure increase and fire moving through the cloud. A dust explosion occurs when a combustible material is dispersed in the air forming a flammable cloud and a flame propagates through it. This of course also depends on the supply of oxygen to the fire, and the concentration of the fuel, if either of these are in too high or low then the explosion will not occur.dust explosions are common and costly in a wide array of industries such as petrochemical, food, paper and pharmaceutical. It is imperative that practical and theoretical knowledge of the origin, development, prevention and mitigation of dust explosions is imparted to the responsible safety manager.


In an explosion a large quantity of energy is released in a short time, causing a fast pressure raise. A bursting pressure vessel is an example of a physical explosion, because no chemical reaction takes place. A dust explosion is a chemical explosion: the suspended dust particles react violently with the oxygen in the atmosphere, which causes the mixture to heat up swiftly. In a closed vessel the expanding atmosphere creates overpressure

The Prevalence of Dust

Many materials, ranging from baking flour to metal dusts, can fuel dust explosions when present in a finely divided state. Some materials are intentionally used in a powder or dust form in manufacturing while other dusts are created as unintentional byproducts. Examples of materials that have historically caused dust explosions include:

Grain and other dry foods
Plastic and rubber
Printer toner
Wood and paper
In the year 2003 alone, there were at least 14 deaths and 81 injuries related to dust explosions. In response to these and several other recent dust explosions, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) recommended that government agencies, insurers, and others provide their inspectors with increased training on recognition and prevention of dust explosion hazards. This and the publicity from recent catastrophic dust explosions will likely increase enforcement of standards for the prevention of dust explosions by inspectors. When inspectors identify dust explosion hazards or issue citations to facilities, Exponent assists clients in quantifying dust explosion hazards and evaluating the validity of citations issued by government inspectors. We also assist clients in identifying cost-effective methods for abating dust explosion hazards.

Addressing the Issue
Exponent designs testing programs to quantify the dust explosion hazards of materials in client’s facilities using both standard ASTM testing methods and methods developed by Exponent. Based on the measured hazard level, when appropriate, we assist the client in identifying mitigation techniques and applicable standards and regulations for the prevention of dust explosions including standards developed by the NFPA. Methods to prevent or mitigate explosions include:

Preventing releases of fugitive dust into facilities
Housekeeping to remove accumulations of dust
Eliminating ignition sources
Inerting explosive atmospheres
Fire and explosion suppression systems
Segregating areas with dust explosion hazards

Properties that affect the Dust Explosion Hazard

Preventing Dust Explosions

Mitigation Methods

Dust Explosion Cases





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