Chris Cloney, based in Canada has been collecting data from many sources on dust explosions and fires for the last 3 years. He sends out a weekly list if you want the most recent information, and year long reports are found at

The American city of Minneapolis was an early centre of the flour milling industry using water power from the river Mississippi. They started to convert from stone grinding of wheat flour in 1874, but suffered a setback in 1878 when a series of explosions and fires destroyed the Washburn A mill and 5 other mills. 17 people were killed.

The American grain industry still has dust explosions every year, and annual statistics were published by Kansas State University, thanks to Prof R Schoeff.see More recently similar statistics are assembled by Purdue University in Indiana which reports a long term average of 9.2 explosions from the grain industry/year The 2016 data is at

UK Incidents 1911 reports

William Primrose and Sons Ltd operated a provender mill in Glasgow which exploded on the 10th Nov 1911, killing 5 people including 3 children playing nearby. Their grinding process was very dusty and had no dust collection system. The room was lit by naked gas lights, and one was on such a long rubber hose that it could be moved around the room. Dust accumulations on the beams were not cleared adequately. The report to parliament highlighted precautions which are just as relevant today, and 90 years later we now have a law which requires employers to specify where ignition sources need to be controlled.

Exactly two weeks after the Glasgow explosion, the premises of J Bibby and Sons in Liverpool experienced the same fate, only this time the toll was 39 dead and 101 injured, figures hard to imagine in factories which today run with such minimal labour. Bibby’s were a more go-ahead firm, with electric lighting and a sprinkler system. They handled cotton cake and assorted meals. The machinery was belt driven, and the official report supposes that a dust cloud was formed when a belt broke. The ignition source was not possible to identify with certainty, but matches and electrical equipment were the most likely cause of the spark. The ignition risks from mechanical machinery came into scope of the law in 1996 while the list of recommendations from the superintending factory inspector in 1912 made in a report to parliament could have been written last week……….


Bibby’s manged it again in Liverpool in 1930, when an explosion in the top floor of a silo building killed 11 and injured 32. Rice flour, sunflower seeds and soya bean meal were used in the processes. Self heating of the sunflower seedcake seems to have been the cause of an initial fire, but the heat spread between silos, and initiated an explosion, when hanging dust fell while an adjacent silo was being emptied. Among the recommendations was the provision of recording thermometers on the silos should be considered.


National Starch

This company suffered an explosion at its Goole site on the 15th September 1996
Investigation showed a catalogue of problems. The mechanical agitation system had shed parts, leaving it liable to generate sparks or hot surfaces; the peroxide bleaching process was poorly controlled and the dosing system liable to supply excess, with the risk of localised chemical heating; the inerting system was incapable of delivering the amount of nitrogen required, and one of the explosion vent ducts was obstructed by structural steelwork running through it.

Aluminium powder
Almost every company that makes this product has experience of explosions, which are usually very violent. The Aluminium Powder Co operate a plant in Anglesey which produces product by atomising molten aluminium into a stream of compressd air. The plant exploded on the 16th July 1983 injuring two men and causing very extensive on-site damage. This incident received much publicity because of the spectacular pictures that resulted, but the following incidents are less well known.


McKechnie Bros in Widnes in 1985 killed one employee in a process which was intended to be inerted, but the instrumentation was unreliable. A ball mill exploded while it was being discharged.

Wolstenholme Bronze of Darwin who made aluminium powder by a ball milling process had a double fatality in 1992. One of these employees was just walking down the yard when a filter located at high level outside exploded. With any other type of dust he would not have been expected to be seriously injured.

North Derbyshire Metals Ltd had two explosions in the 1990s, causing major damage to their buildings. They operated a spray atomisation process similar to that run by Alpoco.

Users, too find aluminium powder dangerous to handle. One use for it is in rocket fuel, but others have more mundane applications. It is used in making foamed concrete blocks, as the metal reacts with alkali in cement to make hydrogen. Various incidents have been reported, but it is not always clear whether the explosion is caused by the metal or the hydrogen.

Chipboard manufacture

The combination of high powered grinders, and kilns drying chips and dust to a low moisture content make these plants, in the words of a former colleague, dust explosions waiting to happen. What does not have to happen is danger to employees. Almost all the manufacturers have experience of dust explosions at their plants. One employee died at Egger UK in Hexham in 1989 when a dust explosion spread through the plant, and somewhere between 20 and 30 explosion vent panels opened inside the building.

The lesson had not been learnt when Sonae built a new plant at Kirkby , Merseyside, and they placed vented silos and other vented equipment inside the building. That exploded in 2002, knocking over an internal wall, and injuring one employee. They were prosecuted in 2006, and a £70,000 fine imposed in Liverpool Crown Court.

Of course incidents happen elsewhere in Europe and some of the biggest have been in France and Germany. See
incidents in France and Germany

This section started with an American incident, and can end with three American incidents from 2003, which were investigated by the Chemical Safety Board: see completed reports for CTA Accoustics, Hayes Lemmerz and West Pharmaceutical Services

One involved polyethylene dust in a place that made pharmaceutical equipment, the second made noise insulation panels for cars, and the third created aluminium dust as part of a manufacturing operation for car wheels. Together they killed 14 people and injured 76. Superficially they have little in common, except a lack of appreciation of the hazards.