Thursday, October 13, 2005

Formosa Plastics: A Neighbor From Hell

Author Diane Wilson doesn't think much of Formosa Plastics, a chemical company whose Port Comfort, Texas plant blew up last week injuring 11 workers:
Formosa Plastics Texas, the shiny new chemical plant on the block and the pride of Texas politicians, businessmen, and economic development types, was heralded as the county's savior (never mind the tax abatements) when construction got under way on the mammoth $1.3-billion-plus PVC plant. But by the mid '90s it had already earned the rank of worst among a dozen Texas PVC-related facilities. In 1991, Formosa was fined a record $3.7 million by the EPA for hazardous waste violations related to the discovery of massively contaminated groundwater under the facility. Violations included failures to comply with the most rudimentary hazardous-waste regulation -- storing waste in leaking containers, lack of adequate employee training, and illegal discharges of wastes.

In 1990, the company was fined $244,00 for 54 water-quality violations, then again in 1992, after a ten thousand pound release of hydrochloride gas that sent neighbors and cows bawling into the night, Formosa was fined $330,000 for worker-safety violations. OSHA inspection found that vinyl chloride levels were not monitored, flammable liquids were not handled properly, and general procedure for maintenance and repair were not followed.

In July '97, two workers were found asphyxiated and floating in a barge of EDC (ethylene dichloride) at the Formosa loading docks. In December '98, an explosion containing EDC injured 26 workers, rattled windows 35 miles away, and contaminated a back waterway into the bay with levels up to 400 ppm of EDC. In April 2004, Formosa's plant in Illinois exploded, killing 6 workers and injuring many more.
Wilson is the author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift , Texas, "a barnstorming tale of her battle with Formosa, one of the nation's worst polluters."