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Explosions, Fire Gut PA Blasting Firm

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

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A Western Pennsylvania abrasive blasting and paint firm is a total loss after several explosions ignited a fire that leveled the business this week.

Authorities suspect an electrical problem sparked the series of blasts just before 9 a.m. Monday (June 4) at Rodgers Sandblasting and Painting in Mercer, about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

 A worker fills an abrasive blasting pot with dry sand. Officials believe that drums of sand may have exploded in the Western Pennsylvania accident.


A worker fills an abrasive blasting pot with dry sand. Officials believe that drums of sand may have exploded in the Western Pennsylvania accident.

The ensuing, fast-spreading fire was fueled by paints, paint thinner and torches at the facility. One employee inside escaped safely, and no injuries were reported.

Mercer Fire Department Chief Bill Finley said he was unsure what had caused the explosions. “It may have been drums of sand that built up pressure from the heat,” he said.

Carrying On

Company owners Bill and Joyce Rodgers could not be reached Tuesday (June 5) for comment.

Reports said the building was uninsured.

Bill Rodgers told The Herald of Sharon that the fire would “probably slow us down a little,” but that he planned to continue servicing customers.

Rodgers was even talking to a prospective customer at the scene of the fire and, later that day, was trying to salvage equipment, the newspaper reported.

“All I know is it was gone,” Joyce Rodgers told the paper. “Everything’s gone. I’m just thankful nobody got hurt.”

She added: “He’s been here quite a long time, and I guess we’ll just start over.”


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Accidents; Health and safety

Comment from Gary Burke, (6/6/2012, 7:34 AM)

Why no insurance???

Comment from Anna Jolly, (6/6/2012, 8:57 AM)

Combustible Dust?

Comment from Car F., (6/6/2012, 10:52 AM)

Coal dust, sugar, wheat dust, paint dust from spray operations are not necessarliy flammable, but explosive. Ever seeing a grain elevator disappeared in an instant?, that's what happens when fine wheat dust is allowed to accumulate; the same occurs with coal dust. Best remedy is to sweep constantly, vacuum or keep surfaces wet to avoid the airborne fine dust from becoming explosive. Static electricity is a serious explosion and fire ignition source, but grounding prevents this. OSHA defines effective grounding as linking equipment to earth through a connection that has “low impedance” and enough current-carrying capacity to prevent hazardous voltages. Simple, effective and economical, if supervision and training is in place.

Comment from Anna Jolly, (6/7/2012, 11:13 AM)

Good information.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/11/2012, 10:38 AM)

Dust can certainly be an explosion hazard, but I cannot see how SAND could have exploded. Sand is darn inert, chemically speaking.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/12/2012, 10:27 AM)

Tom, if it was pure sand, I'd agree...not likely to explode. If they were heated enough that the air inside caused a rupture, then perhaps the rupture of the drums caused damage to something else nearby that fed the fire? The only other thought is that the drums didn't contain pure sand...but it seems like the fire investigators will have their work cut out for them.

Comment from Richard McLaughlin, (6/12/2012, 6:41 PM)

Tom, you are right, most mineral abrasives require several thousand degree Fahrenheit to ignite. But if you take fine iron oxide dust and small steel chips, mixed with fine paint dust, add a source of alkali and a bit of moisture and you have a formula for spontaneous combustion. If someone doesn’t believe that once the surface area to mass ratio is hit steel will burn, take a piece of fine steel wool and hold a flame on it for a few seconds.

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