Congressman Reacts to Imperial Sugar Plant Inspection in Louisiana - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Congressman Reacts to Imperial Sugar Plant Inspection in Louisiana

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - While Imperial Sugar is still reeling from February's explosion at the Port Wentworth plant, new problems are surfacing at one of its other plants. Part of the company's Gramercy, Louisiana, facility has been closed down.

An inspection turned up some deadly hazards.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) went into the Gramercy plant and found a buildup of sugar dust, very similar to what investigators think caused the plant explosion last month in Port Wentworth.

Some people say the danger always existed, claiming combustible sugar dust was a clear and present danger and the rules didn't protect the employees of Imperial Sugar Refinery.

Congressman John Barrow (D-GA Dist. 12) is one of those people.

"It's like playing Russian roulette with a gun with a thousand chambers and only one bullet," Barrow told WTOC. "You can play a long time and not realize the risk you are taking."

Now, Barrow and other lawmakers are targeting sugar dust through legislation. He says Savannah lost the Russian roulette and hundreds of miles away, employees at Imperial Sugar's Gramercy plant saw their facility shut own after risks were discovered.

"For too long, this problem has been lurking in the background and it's a problem that hides in plain sight," Barrow said.

Imperial CEO John Sheptor told WTOC just a few weeks ago the investigation into the cause is ongoing and that quote, "The Port Wentworth plant had a comprehensive housekeeping program, including aspects specifically focused on dust reduction. Dust hazards were taken very seriously at the plant."

Barrow is pushing for OSHA to enforce new safety procedures before something happens again.

"Right now, OSHA is dragging their feet on this too long," Barrow said.

A few weeks ago, Georgia Fire and Insurance commissioner John Oxendine criticized OSHA and implemented emergency safety guidelines statewide at facilities dealing with combustible materials.

Barrow says this new bill would force OSHA to incorporate the same or similar guidelines. However, OSHA has said all along the investigation takes time and that they are being very thorough.

John Sheptor has said these inspections by OSHA have helped improve Imperial's safety procedures and says Imperial Sugar is proceeding with caution in Louisiana.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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