Formosa Plastics Corp. USA plans to rebuild its specialty PVC plant in Illiopolis, Ill., but is considering other locations as well.
Regardless of the site, the new plant will have to meet safety provisions required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the wake of the explosion that killed five workers and destroyed most of the Illiopolis plant April 23.
Livingston, N.J.-based Formosa also will pay a $300,000 fine to OSHA. That amount was reduced from the original $361,000 fine announced in October, when OSHA cited Formosa for several ``willful'' safety violations, including failure to maintain fire protection equipment.
Formosa contested the original citations, according to OSHA spokesman Brad Mitchell. A settlement announced April 4 avoids a review process that could have lasted two or three years, Mitchell said.
``We wanted to [reach a settlement] as quickly and amicably and economically as possible,'' Formosa spokesman Rob Thibault said in an April 7 phone interview. ``There was no admission of fault or wrongdoing on our part, and the scope and severity of the fines were reduced.''
Thibault added that although Formosa has not changed its original intention to rebuild in Illiopolis, other sites - which he declined to identify - are being considered for economic reasons. Formosa has no timetable for the rebuilding.
As part of the settlement, Formosa will hire at least one independent consultant with expertise in chemical process safety management. The consultant will work with design engineers on the new facility and with software engineers to reduce the possibility of human error at the new plant.
Formosa also has agreed to hire a process safety management specialist to help train workers at the new plant. In addition, the firm will have audits conducted by outside personnel to determine if hazards similar to those seen in Illiopolis exist at its other PVC plants, in Point Comfort, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; and Delaware City, Del.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent government agency based in Washington. In an April 7 memo, CSB lead investigator Lisa Long said that although the investigation of the Illiopolis explosion is ``slow going,'' field-testing almost is complete.
``Because of the amount of damage in the facility, equipment that needed to be tested had to be removed very slowly,'' Long said.
One of the last pieces of equipment that CSB finds key to the investigation is to be tested this week, she added.
Long added that CSB still is reviewing several factors, including use of deluge systems, engineering design and layers of protection.
The Illiopolis plant, which Formosa bought from Borden Chemicals & Plastics LP in 2002, supplied as much as half of North America's flooring-grade PVC capacity, according to industry estimates. It was a major supplier to flooring maker Armstrong Holdings Inc.
Formosa has cut 85 jobs at the Illiopolis site since the accident, but continues to employ 50 there in various maintenance and cleanup jobs. The firm opted not to convert an idled general-purpose PVC line at the site for specialty PVC production. The plant has not produced resin since the explosion.
The Illiopolis plant was opened as an ammunitions plant during World War II and has produced plastic since 1954.