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Industrial Safety

Formosa to pay $2.85 milllion in penalties plus follow new safety requirements

DOJ agreement stems from chemical releases in 2013–16

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
September 16, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 34


Photo showing a body of water in the foreground and an industrial facility in the background.
Credit: Diane Wilson/San Antonio Estuarine Waterkeeper
Formosa paid $50 million in 2019 to settle a citizen environmental suit alleging that its Point Comfort plant polluted Texas waterways.

Formosa Plastics has agreed to pay $2.85 million in civil penalties and to correct alleged Clean Air Act violations at its petrochemical manufacturing facility in Point Comfort, Texas, the US Department of Justice announced Sept. 13.

The DOJ alleges 20 violations of the law, particularly risk management requirements that are designed to eliminate releases of hazardous air pollutants. A string of accidents from 2013 to 2016 injured some 40 workers, the DOJ notes. Their injuries included second- and third-degree burns and chlorine inhalation, requiring hospitalization. The incidents also caused property damage and release of extremely hazardous substances, such as hydrochloric acid.

Under the agreement, Formosa must update its accident response and personal protection plans to prevent employee injury, conduct a third-party audit of its risk management practices and perform recommended corrective actions, and develop performance indicators to evaluate future compliance. In addition, the company agreed to assess its equipment and implement a mechanical integrity reporting program. The DOJ estimates the cost of these improvements to be at least $1.4 million.

Formosa did not respond by C&EN’s deadline to a request for comment.

Several of the new provisions, particularly the third-party audit and corrective actions, would have been required by a bill passed late in Barack Obama’s administration but were rescinded by President Donald J. Trump. However, the risk management regulation was among several that President Joe Biden announced would be reviewed during his administration.

Formosa, a Taiwanese chemical manufacturer with several US facilities, has been responsible for US accidents stretching back to at least 2004, when the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board investigated the company after two incidents, one of which killed five workers at an Illinois plant.

Despite the problems, the company announced several years ago a plan to construct a $9.4 billion chemical complex in St. James Parish, Louisiana. This facility is opposed by many residents of the parish, which is a low-income, mostly Black community.

Local and national community and environmental groups sued to block construction, saying Formosa’s construction permit was inadequate. Additionally, they pointed to Formosa’s history of accidents and environmental releases, including a $50 million legal settlement in 2019 between Formosa and a host of groups and individuals that objected to the company’s discharges of plastics and toxic pollutions from the Texas facility into nearby waterways.

Last month, the US Army Corps of Engineers agreed with Louisiana opponents and suspended the facility’s construction permit, saying the permit must include a full environmental impact statement and other requirements.

“This dangerous pattern of behavior by Formosa Plastics is exactly why we don’t want this in our community,” says Sharon Lavigne, executive director of RISE St. James, a local Louisiana group. “These same things happening in Texas are going to happen here in Louisiana. We need to stop Formosa Plastics from building big new polluting plants.”


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