Federal OSHA investigation opened into BioUrja plant explosion as damage estimates top $2M

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 10:55 AM CDT
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UPDATE 6:43 P.M. - Newly obtained video is showing the moment grain dust caught fire and exploded at a Peoria ethanol plant.

The video obtained from a source shows the explosion at BioUrja’s Peoria plant from the east side of the Illinois River. In the video, smoke and flames shoot hundreds of feet into the air.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, nearly 24 hours later, that fire is still burning. Interim Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger says it’s possible that will be the case for days.

Despite the size of the explosion, it only injured two employees at the plant, both treated for smoke inhalation and expected to be ok. Sollberger credits the company for getting its employees out safely on short notice.

“This is nothing short of a miracle, that we’re only dealing with two minor injuries,” Sollberger said. “It was less than five minutes from the time of recognition to the time of the explosion... They did everything absolutely right in that moment.”

Grain and dust was scattered on the ground Thursday, around the two collapsed silos. The cause of the blast is under investigation by several agencies. Sollberger said it started when the dust came into contact with a spark. He says their main priority Wednesday night was to ensure there wasn’t a second explosion.

“When we’re dealing with grain and corn, it’s explosive,” Sollberger said. “So where it’s not considered highly flammable, if it seeks a source of ignition, what it will do - is it will explode.”

OSHA has opened an inspection, and we’re told the EPA is also involved. Peoria County EMA Director Jason Marks says this is a normal procedure for incident like this.

“Entities like that are on scene to make sure that during the response, there’s the safety of the responders,” Marks said.

BioUrja so far did not respond to a call for comment Thursday.

UPDATE: 11:43 A.M. - Peoria Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger says proper monitoring and scene assessments are ongoing at this time.

He also says the estimated damage is too early to assess and that the cause is under investigation.

UPDATE: 10:48 A.M. - A federal OSHA investigation has been opened in regards to the explosion.

Federal OSHA Area Director Barry Salerlo confirms that OSHA is currently onsite.

No further information is available until the investigation is completed, which could take up to six months, the maximum amount of time by law.

PEORIA (WEEK) - As of 7:03 a.m. Thursday morning, Peoria Firefighters and the Peoria Fire Department Hazardous Materials team are still on scene.

According to a press release from Peoria Battalion Chief Steve Rada, “Due to the severity of the incident, crews were unable to make entry to fully extinguish the fire. Fire crews are currently monitoring the situation from a distance due to structural issues as well as a high level of CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Rada emphasized there is no danger to the public, and the estimated damages from this incident is over $2,000,000.

The cause of the ‘major grain explosion’ remains under investigation.

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