Combustible Dust, An Unseen Explosive Threat

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On the big screen, fantastic blasts make for an exciting cinematic experience. But in real life, atmospheric explosions are something to be feared and avoided with great vigilance.

Triggers for workplace explosions fall into two categories: fumes and dust. While fumes can often be detected by smell, dust is much more insidious. Combustible dust particles can hide in workshop and factory nooks and crannies and can ignite with only the smallest of sparks. Any combustible material can burn when the right conditions are present – the result of which can be a massively destructive and deadly explosion. (5). Disasters in production facilities from China to California and Tennessee to Tanzania underscore the real threat dust in the workplace can pose (3).

Pharmaceutical companies are particularly exposed due to the materials used in the formulation of their products. (1). Ingredients used in the making of oral dosage products are finely divided solid particles containing flammable oxidants in dust form. These powdery bits can linger in the atmosphere, then fall and hide on heat-inducing processing equipment which can cause an explosion. As a result, new particles are sent into the air which can ignite, creating residual particle matter which can cause additional explosions. These secondary blasts are typically more destructive because they are less localized. (1)

To understand why the pharmaceutical industry is at particular risk, one must be reminded of the formula for particulate matter explosions using the “Dust Explosion Pentagon” as a guide. The five factors, oxygen, heat, fuel, dispersion and confinement all exist in the formulation and processing of oral products at pharmaceutical facilities. (2) The ignition of concealed ingredient dust particulates is a frightening and very real possibility.

While pharma manufacturers are aware of the hazards associated with combustible dust as it relates to the products they process, containment of ingredient-based particulate matter remains a constant battle.(4) At Air Systems Inc., we have the experience, depth of knowledge and superior products to protect pharmaceutical companies and their employees from the threat of at-work explosions. Contact us today to set up an appointment with one of our air quality specialists.