Contract worker injured in flash fire sues Formosa

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

July 6, 2013 at 2:06 a.m.
Updated July 7, 2013 at 2:07 a.m.

A contractor suffering from burns on more than 60 percent of his body wants Formosa to pay his hospital bill, among other things.

Steven Rene Vasquez, whose age was not available, of Victoria County, sued the company and its Point Comfort plant general manager Randy Smith on June 14 - about a month and a half after a flash fire in its polyethylene unit injured 14 workers.

The day of the fire, May 2, Vasquez, an employee of Palacios Marine & Industrial, or PMI, was climbing down from scaffolding near an out-of-service reactor.

That same reactor emitted an "unusual chemical odor" before the fire, Vasquez said in court documents.

Formosa knew about the odor and authorized work nearby anyway, according to the documents.

The fire erupted after the reactor's pressure spiked and oxygen mixed with the chemicals it contained, according to the lawsuit.

Vasquez was engulfed in super-heated air and knocked from the scaffolding. He also injured his lungs and broke several bones.

He was flown by helicopter to the Memorial Hermann Trauma Institute in Houston. Doctors released him July 2.

Formosa responded to Vasquez's claims, said Bill Harvey, Formosa's communications manager.

But there was no record of that response in Calhoun County Clerk's Office on Friday.

Formosa has about 35 more days to reply and produce documents, such as nitrogen logs and maintenance orders, related to Vasquez's claim.

The case is in the evidence discovery process, Harvey said.

An investigation, conducted by Formosa and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is ongoing.

The agency has not issued a ruling in the fire.

"As soon as we know (the cause of the fire), we'll get the word out to everyone because it's not only important to us, it's important to the rest of the industry," Harvey said.

The fire broke out in part of the polyethylene unit that had been shuttered for a long time, which is not unusual as new technology makes some equipment obsolete, Harvey said.

The fire shut down operations at the entire polyethylene unit because it damaged electrical circuits needed to run two other resin production lines. It has since re-opened, he said.

Polyethylene is one of the most common plastics and is used to make bags, film, piping and more, according to a plastics database.

Vasquez's attorneys, David A. Bryant Jr., of Houston, and David Griffin, of Victoria, could not be reached for comment.



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