CSB Investigation of Formosa Accident Continues; Agency Analyzing Evidence, Determining Root Causes

April 22, 2005

Washington, DC, April 22, 2005 - CSB investigators are nearing completion of equipment testing and are focusing on the analysis of evidence to determine the root causes of the Formosa Plastics accident that occurred in Illiopolis, Illinois, on April 23, 2004, taking the lives of five workers and injuring others. The explosion forced a community evacuation and lighted fires that burned for several days at the plant.

On the one-year anniversary of the accident, CSB investigators report that all physical evidence has now been collected, a process delayed by the extensive structural damage caused by the explosion. As part of the probe, investigators are reviewing the adequacy of policies and procedures in effect at the plant at the time of the accident to determine whether they played a part in the accident. Investigators have also been researching industry standards and relevant federal and local regulations in the ongoing effort to determine the underlying, or root, causes.

Investigators have determined that the accident was caused by the release and subsequent ignition of vinyl chloride, a raw material used to make polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic. A water deluge system, which was designed to flood the process area with water in case of a vinyl chloride release, failed to operate. CSB investigators are seeking to determine not only why the deluge system failed, but whether it would have prevented or mitigated effects of the explosion even if it had worked.

Lisa Long, lead investigator, said, "This has been a somewhat lengthier process than usual due to the structural damage and difficulties in gathering evidence. For example, staircases had collapsed on top of the deluge valves. Before we could get to the valves, the area had to be structurally stabilized, and then the debris sifted through piece by piece. All of this was done in protective equipment."

CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "Our investigators are working steadily to determine the root causes of the Formosa tragedy, and we plan to have the investigation completed within six months to a year. We are looking beyond the immediate cause of the explosion, and exploring possible deficiencies in management systems that are supposed to be in place to prevent or mitigate accidents like this."

Ms. Merritt added, "Our investigation will include not only the root causes, but the key findings that back up that analysis, and our final report will include safety recommendations to the company and others that if implemented will do much to prevent similar accidents from occurring."

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.

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. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov. For more information, contact Sandy Gilmour at (202) 261-7614 / (202) 251-5496 cell.


Back to news