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Union Mills grain elevator blast focuses on grain dust

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UNION MILLS (AP) — The investigation into a northwestern Indiana grain elevator explosion that killed a worker is focusing on grain dust, the owners of the site said Tuesday.

The blast Monday afternoon at the Union Mills Co-op in LaPorte County killed James Swank, 67, of Union Mills, a town located about 50 miles southeast of Chicago.

“Preliminary indications are that an explosion took place at the top of the grain elevator. Thorough investigations are still on-going, but the focus for the cause is centered on grain dust ignition,” Co-Alliance LLP said in a news release.

Co-Alliance, a farmers cooperative based in Avon, near Indianapolis, said Swank had worked at the co-op for seven years. No other injuries were reported.

Grain dust is highly volatile, and a small spark, even from someone using a hammer, can set off a blast, Purdue University farm safety expert Steve Wettschurack has said.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration website says more than 500 explosions in grain-handling facilities across the nation over the last 35 years have killed 180 people and injured more than 675. Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling, the website said.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firms and Explosives is among the agencies investigating the explosion.

Co-Alliance says it arranged for grief counselors to visit the co-op Tuesday. It says the co-op has a retail center, grain elevator and storage facility for fertilizer and other materials.



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