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Baltimore plant involved in HAZMAT incident is part of global chemical giant

The company whose plant sent a cloud of caustic acid over South Baltimore Monday is one of the world’s largest chemical companies, last year selling about $13 billion in products intended for everything from planes, cars and medical devices to materials for food and beauty products.

The Baltimore site of the Brussels-based conglomerate Solvay S.A. is part of a business unit that specializes in cosmetics and other personal care items, as well as plastics and other products.

The unit is called Novecare, which launched in 1950 as part of Rhodia, another chemical company. Solvay bought Rhodia in 2011 as a means of entering new markets after having sold its pharmaceutical operation to Abbott Laboratories in 2009.

The local operation, one of two in Maryland, now produces sulfates and other formulations for uses in coatings and personal care products, as well as in other industrial, agricultural and oilfield operations.

The Novecare chemicals help give products such as shampoos, detergents, paints and lubricants their distinctive properties. That includes cleaning, softening, moisturizing, gelling or texturizing.

The Solvay company initially grew from a family operation in 1863 that innovated production of soda ash, used to make glass and detergents, and continued to expand over time.

It currently has operations in dozens of countries, and in 16 U.S. states. There are two operations in Texas that were damaged in Hurricane Harvey but have reopened.

In Maryland, Solvay also operates a research and innovation center in Havre de Grace, one of six such facilities in North America.

Solvay trades on Brussels-based Euronext and over-the-counter in the United States. Shares were up in today’s trading.

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