At midnight on Wednesday, a corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin—about
45 miles northeast of Madison—exploded and caught fire. The blast
has killed at least 2 workers, severely injuring over a dozen others.
One more worker has yet to be found out of the 16 people who were working
at the mill that night. We reported on the explosion
in yesterday’s blog, which offers more information about the injured workers.
Today’s story is about the owner of the mill: Didion Milling Company.
Investigation Reveals Major Safety Violation
AP reports that OSHA had previously reprimanded Didion Milling in January
2011. According to the citation, the mill had exposed its workers to dust
explosion hazards. For background, it’s a well-known scientific
fact that dust, when combustible and dispersed in high concentrations,
can rapidly combust. In some cases, all that’s required to set off
the explosion is a cigarette butt.
Such an explosion can produce a massive shockwave similar to a bomb—which
supports eyewitness accounts of the explosion from residents who live nearby.
The citation specifically noted that the plant’s filters lacked an
“explosion protection system.” The mill was given a deadline
of April 2011 to make repairs—they fixed it, paid a fine of $3,465,
and closed the case. They've not been cited since, although that is
not necessarily evidence of compliance.
In 2016, there were 5 explosions caused by grain dust—2 of which
About the Company
Family-owned since 1972, the company was founded by John and Dow Didion
to process corn for fuel and food. The corn mill was opened in 1991. The
company is now run by Riley Didion, and they employ over 200 people and
have two plants in Cambria: the corn mill and an ethanol plant nearby.
In addition, they have a few other plants sprinkled throughout the state.
Many of their Cambria plant workers live in the small village, which has
a population of 770. According to Village President Glen Williams, the
plants were an “economic anchor” for the region.