The explosion that killed five workers and severely damaged Formosa Plastics Corp. USA's PVC plant in Illiopolis, Ill., last month now has led the firm to cut 58 jobs at the site.
``There's no production going on [in Illiopolis], but we've continued to pay all of our employees for five weeks,'' Formosa spokesman Rob Thibault said. ``At the outset, we told them we couldn't do that indefinitely.
``This is a difficult decision, but there are economic realities.''
Thibault added that he was unsure if any of the jobs will be restored when the plant is reopened. The cuts, effective May 30, leave the plant with a staff of 75.
All the job cuts are hourly production or maintenance positions. Of the 75 remaining jobs, 45 are hourly. The employees being let go will continue to receive health benefits for three months, Thibault said.
The cause of the blast remains unknown. Formosa staffers and state inspectors still are unable to access the part of the plant where the April 23 accident took place. Thibault said access to the area is restricted because of safety issues.
``We know the area is structurally unsound, and to access it, some demolition work needs to be done,'' he said. ``But it needs to be done very carefully and deliberately so as not to disturb any evidence of what caused the accident.''
Thibault added that employee Bradford Bradshaw remains hospitalized with injuries suffered in the incident, but that his condition recently was upgraded from critical to serious.
Formosa officials may restart a second line at the site that has been idled for some time. Some industry estimates claim the Illiopolis plant supplied as much as half of North America capacity for flooring-grade PVC.
Flooring maker Armstrong Holdings Inc., a major Illiopolis customer, had warned its shareholders that the firm's financial results may be affected by the explosion. But as of May 27, Armstrong had made no production changes or layoffs as a result of the Formosa explosion, according to corporate communications director Dorothy Brown Smith.
Michelle Zelman, public relations manager for Armstrong's flooring business, added that the firm has secured alternate supplies of raw materials and ``is well-positioned for both the short-term and long-term.''
Thibault dismissed speculation that Formsoa might decide not to reopen the plant, which it bought from Borden Chemicals and Plastics LP in 2002. The facility was opened as an ammunitions plant during World War II and has produced plastic since 1954.
``Our intention is the same,'' Thibault said. ``We plan to restart production as soon as we can.''