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Imperial Sugar avoids criminal charges for fatal Georgia plant dust explosion

28 February 2013

The US Justice Department said it will not press criminal charges against Imperial Sugar Co. for the 2008 refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia, which killed 14 workers. US Attorney Edward Tarver said prosecutors had determined that they could only bring misdemeanor charges against Imperial for violating industrial cleanliness standards.

The dust explosion at the Port Wentworth plant on February 7, 2008, killed 14 and injured a further 36
The dust explosion at the Port Wentworth plant on February 7, 2008, killed 14 and injured a further 36

There was not enough evidence to prove that the company intentionally had lax safety requirements, he said.

In 2010, Imperial paid more than $6 million in fines relating to safety violations at the Georgia refinery and its plant at Gramercy, Louisiana. It originally faced investigations by the US Chemical Safety Board, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

The dust explosion on February 7, 2008, was caused by an accumulation of sugar dust on surfaces within the Port Wentworth plant, killing 14 and injuring a further 36, some seriously.

OSHA accused Imperial Sugar of 221 safety violations before agreeing to the $6m fines. Imperial Sugar said it admitted no wrongdoing by settling the case.

Federal investigations launched after the explosion determined that Imperial Sugar had been warned about dangerous dust inside the Georgia plant as recently as 2002, and that prior warnings had been issued since as early as the 1960s. The refinery is the second-largest in the U.S. and has been operating for nearly a century.

Imperial Sugar included a number of safety features when it rebuilt the refinery, claims to operate an industry-best sugar dust monitoring program, and undergoes regular safety audits from external experts.

Louis Dreyfus Commodities bought Imperial Sugar in June, 2012.

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