The U.S. Chemical Safety Board today issued its report on the April 23, 2004, explosion and fire at Formosa Plastics Corp.'s plant in Illiopolis Ill. Five workers died and three more were seriously injured in the accident. The report blames human error, but is critical of the company for not doing more to prevent the accident.
The CSB found that both Formosa and Borden Chemical, the company from whom Formosa purchased the plant in 2002, were aware of the possibility of serious consequences of an inadvertent release of chemicals from an operating PVC reactor. But the investigation determined that the measures both companies took were insufficient to prevent human error or minimize its consequences.A news release from the agency quotes Chairwoman Carolyn W. Merritt: "People do make mistakes. And that is why it is all the more important for chemical plants to design systems that take into account the possibility of such errors." She added: "This accident occurred because the companies involved did not look closely enough at the potential for catastrophic consequences resulting from human error." The board recommends that Formosa review the design and operation of all of its U.S. PVC facilities. It also urges Formosa "to ensure chemical processes are designed to minimize the consequences of human error, improve control of safety interlocks, more thoroughly investigate high-risk hazards, and consider all consequences in near-miss investigations. Formosa was also urged to improve emergency planning and conduct periodic drills, emphasizing prompt evacuations." Safety experts at chemical companies across the country will be taking a close look at this report today, looking for steps they can take to make their plants safer. CSB is a federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. It does not issue citations or fines, but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.