Issue Date: August 11, 2014
Deadly Chemical Blasts In Taiwan
A series of explosions caused by leaks in an underground propylene pipeline in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city, killed 30 people and injured 300 more on the evening of July 31, according to the state-owned Central News Agency. The pipe was bringing raw material to LCY, a chemical company that operates several plants in the industrial city.
Five firefighters were among the dead, the news agency reported. The blasts occurred when emergency responders were already at the scene investigating reports of gas smells. The pipe ran under the streets of a busy commercial and residential neighborhood.
Amid claims that the tragedy could have been avoided, four senior Taiwan government officials, including the economic minister, have tendered their resignations.
Investigators have determined that the propylene pipeline responsible for the blast belongs to LCY. For two hours before the blast, 10 metric tons of propylene leaked from the pipe, according to Kaohsiung’s Environmental Protection Bureau.
Accusations and denials are flying in the wake of the accident. Kaohsiung officials maintain that LCY could have turned off its propylene supply as soon as it noticed a drop in pressure. LCY issued an apology for its role in the accident but also alleges that maintenance of the pipe was the responsibility of its builder, China Petroleum Corp., which denies responsibility.
The government of Kaohsiung has asked a Taiwanese court to order the provisional seizure of LCY assets to ensure payment to victims of the tragedy. LCY shares, listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, have plummeted since the accident.
Tracing its roots back to the 1940s, LCY is Taiwan’s largest producer of polypropylene. It is run by Bowei Lee, a chemical engineer who graduated from MIT and who holds an MBA from Stanford University. The company was in the news last month when its deal to merge its styrenic block copolymer business with that of the U.S. company Kraton Performance Polymers was in jeopardy. Kraton now says it is canceling the deal and that, owing to the accident, it doesn’t need to pay a $25 million breakup fee.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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