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Three workers still hospitalized after Formosa Plastics fire

By: Frank Esposito

May 7, 2013

LIVINGSTON, N.J. -- Three workers remained hospitalized May 10 after a May 2 fire at a plastics feedstock unit operated by Formosa Plastics Corp. USA in Point Comfort, Texas. The company has declared force majeure on some grades of high density polyethylene as a result of the fire.

A spokeswoman for Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston confirmed on May 9 that worker Jose Campos remained in the hospital in critical condition. Two of those still hospitalized were contractors, while the third was a Formosa employee, according to a spokesman with Livingston, N.J.-based Formosa. He declined to provide further details.

Eleven other workers who were injured in the fire have been treated and released from local hospitals. The ethylene purification unit where the fire broke out and a nearby polyethylene unit remained down May 10. The cause of the fire is being investigated and no restart date has been set, officials said.

As a result of the PE unit being down, Formosa on May 6 declared force majeure on high-molecular-weight grades of its Formolene-brand high density PE resins. The quantity of product that will be allocated to customers is under evaluation, polyolefins Vice President and General Manager Ken Mounger said in a May 6 letter. Officials previously said that the firm has sufficient PE inventory to meet normal orders.

The purification unit was not operating at the time of the fire, officials said. Maintenance was being conducted on equipment in and around the area, they added. Formosa’s in-house fire department had the fire extinguished within 10 minutes.

Officials also said that the mandated use of fire-resistant clothing may have reduced the amount and severity of some of the injuries, and that the employees’ training and drills “proved their effectiveness.”

“Everyone knew exactly what to do and who was responsible,” officials said in the release. “Response was immediate and the on-site medical treatment center was set up and staffed within minutes of the incident.

“We continue to work with the injured, and their families, to ensure prompt, proper medical treatment and assist with the families’ needs during this difficult time,” the release added.

Officials also said that although it appeared that some ancillary equipment was damaged by the fire, there appeared to be no significant damage to production equipment.

 Point Comfort is Formosa’s largest North American production site, making PE, polypropylene and PVC, as well as ethylene feedstock.

Point Comfort also was the site of an explosion and fire that injured 11 in 2005. That fire started when a contract employee backed a forklift into a liquid propylene line, causing the propylene to vaporize and ignite. The site’s olefins unit was down for five months as a result of that incident.

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 capacity, and a propane dehydrogenation unit with more than 1.3 billion pounds of capacity.