OSHA to fine Imperial Sugar $8.7M in deadly blast

July 26, 2008 11:00:06 AM PDT
A Georgia lawmaker says federal officials are proposing $8.7 million in fines against Imperial Sugar for violations at a plant near Savannah where an explosion killed 13 people and at another plant in Louisiana. The fines against Sugar Land, Texas-based Imperial Sugar would be the third-highest in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They include $5 million for the explosion near Savannah and $3.7 million for the plant in Gramercy, La.

Authorities found violations at the Louisiana plant a month after the Feb. 7 blast in Georgia that injured dozens of workers.

According to the OSHA investigation, 120 violations were found against the Georgia plant, including 61 considered egregious. The agency cited the Louisiana plant for 91 violations, including 47 egregious ones.

An initial investigation traced the Georgia explosion to sugar dust that ignited like gunpowder in a basement area, used to load sugar onto conveyor belts to be transported for packaging, beneath the refinery's 100-foot storage silos.

Imperial Sugar has owned the 90-year-old refinery, which produces Dixie Crystals brand sugar, since 1997.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington says an Imperial executive will testify at a hearing on the explosion. Graham H. Graham, the company's vice president of operations, will discuss dangerous dust conditions he witnessed at the Georgia plant before the explosion, according to Murray.

Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor says the company plans to spend $180 million to $230 million to rebuild the refinery's packaging plant and silos destroyed by the blast. It plans to resume refining raw sugar before the end of year, and complete a new packaging plant and storage silos by next summer.

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