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14 workers injured in fire at Formosa Plastics

By: Frank Esposito

May 3, 2013

POINT COMFORT, TEXAS — Fourteen workers were injured May 2 in a fire at an ethylene purification unit operated by Formosa Plastics Corp. USA in Point Comfort.

Workers Steven Vasquez and Jose Campos were in critical condition May 3 at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston, a hospital spokeswoman said. Both men had been life-flighted to that location.

Formosa spokesman Steve Rice said May 3 that eight of the other 12 injured were treated and released from local hospitals. Most of the injured were treated for injuries ranging from serious burns to smoke inhalation, according to a report in the Victoria (Texas) Advocate.

The fire began around 1:30 p.m. and was extinguished by Formosa's in-house fire department within 10 minutes, Rice said, with an all-clear signal being given shortly after 3 p.m. The fire took place in an ethylene purification unit that is near a unit that makes high density polyethylene resin.

Rice said production has stopped at both the ethylene purification unit and the HDPE unit. No restart dates for those units has been announced. The cause of the fire is under investigation, he added.

"We're still assessing the situation and assessing damage," Rice said. "Our priority right now is tending to the injured."

Ken Mounger, vice president and general manager of the company's polyolefins division, said in a May 3 letter to customers: "It appears that there is no major damage to the production unit. The cause of this incident is under investigation and the restart date for the unit has not been determined.

"At this time there is sufficient product inventory to fill immediate normal and customary orders. The extent of our ability to supply product long term will depend on the results of the investigation and a full assessment of the equipment. Please rest assured that Formosa is working diligently to resume normal safe operations as soon as possible."

Point Comfort is Formosa's largest North American production site, making PE, polypropylene and PVC, as well as ethylene feedstock. It also was the site of an explosion and fire that injured 11 in 2005.

In February 2012, Formosa officials announced a $1.7 billion expansion project for Point Comfort. The expansion will include an olefins cracker with almost 1.8 billion pounds of annual capacity as well as a low density PE plant with almost 700 million pounds of annual capacity and a propane dehydrogenation (PDO) unit with more than 1.3 billion pounds of annual capacity.