CSB Investigate Plastics Plant Explosion in Point Comfort

Federal investigators say better fire-proofing -- and automatic shutoff valves could have reduced the damages and injuries caused by a fire and explosion at a south Texas plastics plant last October. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The fire at the Formosa Plastics Plant at Point Comfort started when a forklift trailer hit a gas valve and knocked it out of its fittings. Escaping gas ignited into a fire that injured 16 employees and took five days to burn out. Chemical Safety Board lead investigator Robert Hall says employees couldn't stop the leak.

"Once the rapidly leaking propylene began forming a vapor cloud, operators could not reach manual valves that could shut off the flow. Had the Olefins Two Unit been equipped with automatic shutdown valves, it may have been possible to stop the propylene flow, limiting the size of the fire."

The CSB is recommending changes at Formosa Plastics, and board member John Bresland says the entire chemical industry should take note of them.

"We recommend that Formosa Plastics Corporation USA revise its policies and procedures for analyzing hazards. Hazard analyses should consider vehicle impact dangers, fireproofing of structural steel, and mechanisms for controlling catastrophic chemical releases, such as remotely controlled isolation valves."

OSHA has cited Formosa for several safety violations and levied fines which Formosa is appealing. A Formosa spokesman says the company is cooperating fully with the CSB investigation, and takes the recommendations seriously. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.