Elevator explosion first reported as fertilizer blast

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Every explosion at an agricultural retailer operation cannot be blamed on fertilizer, but the non-agricultural news media is enthralled with being first to report fertilizer dangers and hazards since the West, Texas, fertilizer fire and explosion.

So, when an explosion at the Co-Alliance, LLP operation at Union Mills, Ind., occurred and claimed one life on June 24, it was erroneously attributed to a fertilizer explosion when in reality it occurred at the grain facility portion of the company’s operation.

Union Mills is both an agronomy retail center, and a grain elevator and storage facility.  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, according to Shawn Lambert, Co-Alliance safety and risk manager, who has been on site and is coordinating the internal investigation.

Reuters was one of the major news services issuing a national report that this was a fertilizer explosion about 70 miles southeast of Chicago, when in fact it had nothing to do with fertilizer. The time of the explosion was reported as about 1:30 p.m. which would normally be the height of activity around a grain and fertilizer operation.

Co-Alliance announced that James Swank, age 67, who had worked at the facility for seven years and a resident of Union Mills, was the employee who died in the explosion. Lambert, stated, “The facility has been secured, and all other employees have been accounted for, with no other injuries reported.”

The co-op management in its official statement thanked the quick and professional efforts of all the first-responder departments and agencies. It also issued its sympathy and concern for the Swank family.

“In the days to come, Co-Alliance and its employees will be working closely with investigating agencies to provide any assistance necessary. Ensuring the safety and health of employees is of primary concern. The company has arranged for grief counselors to be on site today.  Determining the cause of the accident is our top priority moving forward. As more information becomes available and is confirmed, it will be included in future updates.  Services for Mr. Swank are pending, and details will follow,” the official statement further noted.

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