CSB Continues Investigation of Formosa Plastics Explosion, Examines Functioning of Plant Fire Safety System for Vinyl Chloride

April 30, 2004

Washington, DC, April 30, 2004 - Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) are continuing their field work on the April 23 accident at the Formosa Plastics plant in Illiopolis, Illinois, east of Springfield, and plan to enter the area where the explosion originated as soon as structural safety issues are resolved next week.

The explosion and resulting fire caused the deaths of four workers at the Formosa plant and injured others. Three workers are still hospitalized, including two who were severely burned and remain in critical condition. The Formosa plant, which manufactures polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, was heavily damaged and is not operating.

Investigators have thus far completed about 25 witness interviews and have requested specific documents and records from the company. According to CSB lead investigator Stephen Wallace, "We are examining several possible scenarios that could have led to a large release of vinyl chloride in the facility's PVC-1 production unit just prior to the explosion. The PVC-1 unit contains a number of reactors where highly flammable vinyl chloride was converted into PVC plastic. At a recent public meeting in Illiopolis, questions were raised about the operability of the unit's water deluge system, which is designed to flood the area with water as soon as a vinyl chloride release is detected. We are aware of these reports and one of our first priorities when we gain access to the site will be to confirm whether the system actually came on as intended on the night of April 23." Wallace said investigators will be joined by an outside fire engineering expert as they examine the site for clues whether the safety system was functioning.

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. For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz at 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell).


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