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.
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 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's parent comapny, American Sugar Refining Inc., paid the $4,000 fine this year, the report states. In negotiations with MOSHA, officials with American Sugar said they would install three new sugar mills and new dust collectors, increase staff and develop a written housekeeping program as part of their efforts to prevent sugar-dust accumulation.
Officials at the sugar refinery did not return a phone call seeking comment.