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The History of Plant Incidents at Formosa Plastics and Past Safety Violations

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 3-May-2013

Formosa Plastics Corporation, U.S.A. (otherwise known as Formosa Plastics) was founded in 1978 and is a large supplier for petrochemicals and plastic resins. This company is quickly expanding and currently brings in annual revenue of $5 billion between their three current plants in Point Comfort, Texas; Delaware City, Delaware; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; with their company headquarters located in Livingston, New Jersey. While this company seeks to demonstrate is commitment and dedication to the communities they are involved in, Formosa still holds a history of plant incidents that resulted in the injuries of their employees; accidents, which could have likely been prevented.

Formosa had a chemical plant in Iliopoulos, Illinois and in April, 2004, there was an explosion on their site, leading to the death of five workers and the injuries of many others; three of which were hospitalized for critical injuries. Reports show that the explosion was very severe and the entire site was shut down as a result of the incident and the flames burned for days. This specific site manufactured polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, and there was concern that the production of the chemicals somehow involved an error, resulting in a release of vinyl chloride into the PVC-1 production unit. Once these highly flammable chemicals collided, the explosion was a likely result. Investigators listed the aforementioned as one of many possibilities to the explosion on the site, along with numerous concerns for the proper functioning of the sites safety system.

Another incident occurred in at the Point Comfort location just one year later in October 2005, resulting in the injuries of many people on the site. Reports from the incident show that nine of the victims injured in the blast were treated and then released from the hospital, whereas one man was listed in fair condition though with burn wounds, and the final victim with one third of his body covered in severe burns; he was in critical condition. One worker at the scene of the explosion said that there were at least five different explosions, and big fireballs being sent into the sky with gas escaping into the air.

The April leading up to the 2005 Texas explosion, the Point Comfort facility was fined $150,000 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for pollution violations because of the vinyl chloride and other chemicals being released into he air at an unsafe level. Sadly, not much changed at the site because just a few months later the October blast occurred. As a result of this explosion in Texas, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued a case study on the Point Comfort site in order to determine what hazards there were that may have prevented the incidents from occurring. What they found was more than they expected, realizing that there were a number of safety violations involved that lead to the explosion.

The case study shows that what initially led to the disaster was when a forklift (which was carrying loaded cylinders of breathing air) snagged a valve as it drove past, causing it to be pulled out of the system. The air then mixed with the propane as it released from the broken valve, causing the first initial fire which injured 14 people initially. CSB notes that the site was using the wrong valves, and had system been properly equipped with the automated shut down valves, the flow of the chemical would have ceased, therefore decreasing the size of the fire significantly. However, because this was not the case, the room quickly filled with smoke and operators were unable to shut down the system manually.

There were a number of safety hazards and violations on this site including the fact that the trailer which hit the valve was not properly guarded nor where the steel supports fireproofed, causing a collapses after the flames. The lead CSB investigator Robert Hall, shares that the facility was not properly updated to protect it from major fires, and not only that, but the employees were not properly protected with fire retardant clothing.

It is safe to assume that had this company been implementing the standard of health and safety on their facility grounds, many workers would have had their lives spared, or their bodies uninjured. Sadly, the case study of 2005 did little to improve the site at Point Comfort, as this week there was another plant fire that ignited and caused the injury of 16 workers as a result. If you were one of these victims injured in the Formosa plant fire this week, contact Arnold & Itkin today to discuss your case and we will help you fight for the compensation you deserve!

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