The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) inspected the Formosa Plastics Plant in the past after a fire and multiple explosions at the plant in 2005. This previous accident happened when a forklift at the plant towing a trailer with cylinders of breathing air snagged a valve and pulled it out of the system at the Olefins II unit.
The incident cause a release of propylene, which cause a chemical reaction that ignited and started a large explosion. The first explosion knocked workers to the ground and two men were burned. One man left the accident in an ambulance in serious condition. Fourteen workers sustained minor injuries when they tried to evacuate the complex during the fire.
The CSB determined that the plant could have prevented this 2005 accident if there had been automatic shutdown valves installed at the plant. This would have helped to stop the propylene flow that contributed to the size of the fire. During this fire, the operators claim that they were unable to reach the manual valves and stop the release of the chemical. Automatic valves would have solved the problem.
The case study also determined that the valve which was hit by a trailer was unguarded even though it was obviously vulnerable to being hit by vehicles. The CSB noted that some of the steel supports in the Olefin II unit weren't fireproof, allowing them to burn and damage the facility. The non-fireproof beams collapsed during the fire. Pipes installed in the Olefins II unit were designed to carry flammable hydrocarbons to the flare system in the unit, and these hydrocarbons would have burned in the atmosphere in some circumstances.
Unfortunately, this precautionary safety system was decimated when the non-fireproof beams fell in the unit. The CSB says that the plant was not prepared for the incident, and the effects could have been horrific. The plant was not up-to-date on their safety technologies and could have prevented some of the damage from the incident. The Board issued a number of safety recommendations and urged the plant to revise its policies and procedures for analyzing hazards.
Despite this inspection almost seven years ago, the Formosa Plastics Plant experienced another fire on Thursday, May 2 nd, 2013. Sixteen workers were injured in the incident and rushed to local hospitals. The incident is still being investigated, and the CSB has not yet announced whether or not the plant failed to implement the safety procedures recommended after the fire in 2005. If you want more information about the recent fire at the Formosa Plastics Plant in Point Comfort, Texas, click here.