A federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents said that if the Point Comfort, Texas, facility of Formosa Plastics Corp. had been better equipped for a large chemical release, it might have been able to limit the size of an Oct. 6 fire that injured 12 people.
``The incident had disastrous consequences because the facility was not better prepared for a major chemical release,'' said John Bresland, a member of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Identification Board (CSB).
``The fire and explosions ... provide compelling reasons [for companies] to analyze vulnerabilities that could lead to a major chemical accident,'' said Bresland, former president of a chemical safety consulting firm and a former environmental risk manager for Honeywell Corp.
According to a CSB study issued July 20, the use of automatic or remote-controlled shutdown valves might have enabled workers to contain the fire, which continued for five days. CSB said workers were unable to reach manual valves to cut off the chemicals that fed the fire.
The fire started when a contract employee backed a forklift into a liquid propylene line. The propylene vaporized and was ignited by pressurized flammable gases. The olefins unit, which converts natural gas liquids and naphtha into propylene and ethylene, reopened in late March.
The board urged Livingston, N.J.-based Formosa to incorporate the latest standard for fireproofing steel structures, to use remote-controlled isolation valves and to provide fire-resistant clothing to workers exposed to the dangers of flash fires.
Lead CSB investigator Robert Hall said ``improved design practices and protective clothing could have reduced the impact'' of the accident. Formosa spokesman Rob Thibault said the company will review the recommendations closely.
``We are not going to [treat] something like that lightly or dismiss it out-of-hand,'' he said, adding that the company already has a policy that dictates the use of fire-retardant clothing and personal protective equipment in hazardous areas.
Formosa has contested the $148,000 fine proposed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration for 13 serious violations and one willful violation in connection with the Point Comfort fire.
The fine is the second levied by OSHA against the complex in the past six years and the fourth time OSHA has fined a Formosa site in the U.S. for safety violations since December 2000.
In April 2005, Formosa was cited for 36 serious violations and fined $300,000 for an April 2004 fire and explosion that destroyed its specialty vinyl plant in Illiopolis, Ill., killing five workers and seriously injuring three others.