Illiopolis, Illinois, April 25, 2004 - Calling Friday night's accident at the Formosa Plastics plant here "among the most serious that the Board has investigated in more than six years," U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt announced the Board would conduct a full investigation to determine the root causes of the tragedy and develop safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future. Depending on its course, that investigation may take up to a year or more to complete.
The explosions and fire at the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant just before 11 p.m. on Friday, April 23, killed four workers, injured a number of others including two who were reported in critical condition, destroyed part of the facility, and caused a large public evacuation.
"First and foremost, our thoughts are with the injured and the families of the victims. Based on the human toll, the damage to the plant, the hazards of the materials used, and the impact on the public, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has begun a full, independent, federal investigation of the root causes of the disaster at Formosa Plastics. This investigation will continue until we understand what happened, why it happened, and how best to prevent it from ever happening again."
CSB investigators have conducted interviews with plant management including the operations supervisor and safety director. They have also begun interviewing plant workers. Members of the CSB team have only been able to view the plant destruction at a distance of a quarter-mile due to the safety concerns.
Chairman Merritt said CSB investigators may initially be at the site for a week or more, interviewing workers, eyewitnesses, and emergency responders; examining and collecting forensic evidence; and reviewing the company's records, procedures, and safety history. There are currently three investigators from CSB headquarters in Washington, DC, at the site and three more will arrive shortly.
Chairman Merritt said, "As we develop preliminary findings in this case, we will provide that information to the affected community. At the end of our investigation, the full Board will come to the area to present its final report."
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov. Media contacts:
Illiopolis, IL: Sandy Gilmour, 202-251-5496 cell
Washington, DC: Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 cell or Dana Weidaw, 602-402-2200 cell