7 Injured in Coschocton Grain Elevator Explosion

A Coschocton grain elevator where an explosion on Wednesday afternoon injured seven may be demolished. The explosion remains under investigation but may have been caused been blamed by an accumulation of grain dust.

Injured were five employees of the Coschocton Grain Company and two state grain graders who were at the business at the time of the explosion. The elevator is located next to the Ohio Central tracks.

One of the injured was flown to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center while the other six were taken to Coshocton County Memorial Hospital.

None of the injuries was life-threatening, said Larry Endsley, a co-owner of the business and chairman of the board.

Endsley said the likely cause of the explosion, which occurred shortly after 4 p.m., is a spark that ignited grain dust as several rail cars were being filled with corn.

“While we do our best to minimize the risk, grain elevators are very prone to dust explosions,” he told The Columbus Dispatch. “When something sparks it, it’s almost like a bomb. There was no fire. The whoosh puts the fire out, and in a split second, it’s over.”

Endsley said the explosion blew the roofs off several silos and grain bins.

“We don’t know how much damage there will be yet,” he said. “But the worst thing is that we’re getting into our busiest time of the year. We’ll get to work quickly to get repairs done.”

Coshocton Grain also has facilities in Hebron and Johnstown and in Illinois. The Coschocton location handles about 10 million bushels of grain a year.

Coshocton Fire Chief Mike Layton said he didn’t fear another explosion, but smoldering fires remained a concern as several fire crews battled smoke and flames on Thursday from the tops of three adjacent silos to the ones damaged in Wednesday’s explosion.

The company said in a written statement that it will continue to work with state and local officials to determine the cause of the explosion.

Ohio Occupational Health and Safety Administration officials and representatives from the firm’s insurance company were on site Thursday.

The release also said management was grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and thoughts and prayers were with employees and their families.

Layton said minor smoke was emitting from one of the silos after firefighters began clearing the scene after 7 p.m. Wednesday.

He hoped the fire might die out with compacting grain causing a lack of air getting to it. It didn’t happen, but there were no major flare ups overnight.

Layton had checked in twice Thursday morning with grain company management. He said flames seen at about 11:15 a.m. were caused by air getting through a vent.

A ladder truck was used to spray water on the silos, which Layton said cooled the blaze, but didn’t extinguish it because firefighters weren’t able to get water directly on the fire because of the enclosed roofs.

Layton consulted with experts on fighting grain fires who said that one option is to shoot liquid nitrogen or a carbon dioxide product from the base of the silos upward.

But that couldn’t be done here because the bins are not well sealed. A structural damage team from Columbus Wednesday suggested the damaged silos be torn down.

“We got fires on both sides of this thing and we’re still coming up with a game plan on what we need to do,” Layton said. “I suggested (management) call their insurance company and say the only way we’re going to be able to combat this is to start the demo process.”

Board Chairman Endsley previously had said that the 66-year-old business would be closed several weeks, but hoped to be reopen by the busy fall harvest season.

The company’s website instructs farmers with contracts to drop off corn and soybeans at the business should arrange for alternative delivery. It also stated that new crop bids would be suspended until further details are known of damage suffered and a timeline for reopening.

Endsley said such incidents are not uncommon in the grain industry and his business has always been proactive in its training and planning for such emergencies. The company had passed all required OSHA training and certification, he said.

Endsley said he did not expect a lot of financial loss from the grain itself and the firm has insurance for business loss. At the time of the explosion Wednesday, corn was being transported to rail cars to make room for new stock. About 1 million bushels were in the damaged concrete silos.

The 13-acre facility has 2.7 million bushels of space and and around 900 customers in 22 counties across southeastern Ohio.

In the meantime, a Columbus TV station reported that over the years the plant has been cited for some various violations, including one that can cause explosions.

ABC 6 Chief Investigator Tom Sussi said he had been in contact with OSHA officials in Chicago and learned that OSHA has no record of workers at the facility getting hurt on the job. By law, companies only have to report injuries when three of more people are sent to the hospital.

OSHA records show that in 2011 the company was cited for having an “excess accumulation of grain dust.” The company also failed to produce an annual plan to prevent an acceptable level of grain dust.     During last year’s inspections, ABC6 reported that OSHA found 17 serious violations, including wiring issues, lack of personal protection equipment, and unsecured open floor areas. In one case, workers were exposed to a dangerous eight-foot drop. The company agreed to pay nearly $17,000 in fines, and correct the violations. ABC 6 said it learned that last year the company was fined $3,150 for a repeat violation of failing to secure work areas from potentially dangerous falls.

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