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China Stresses Industrial Safety

Tianjin: Authorities step up inspections, detain 23 people, but a second facility blows up

by Jean-François Tremblay
August 27, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 34

Credit: Jean-Francois Tremblay
Workers inspect a damaged office building about 2 miles from the chemical warehouse that exploded in Tianjin.
Credit: Jean-Francois Tremblay
Workers inspect a damaged office building about 2 miles from the chemical warehouse that exploded in Tianjin.

As the death toll keeps rising after the Aug. 12 explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin, China, authorities throughout the country have stepped up safety inspections of industrial facilities. However, this safeguard did not prevent an adiponitrile plant in Shandong province from blowing up days later.

In Tianjin, the official death toll had risen to 139 as C&EN went to press on Aug. 27. Police have so far arrested 12 people, including senior executives from Ruihai Logistics, the company where the blast occurred. And China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate says it has detained 11 senior officials for offenses such as dereliction of duty in their supervision of Ruihai.

Meanwhile, recovery efforts are proceeding in Tianjin. Among the companies affected is GlaxoSmithKline, which operates a pharmaceutical plant a few miles from the blast site. Last week, technicians wearing hazardous materials suits were seen conducting an inspection of the facility, which, from the outside, appeared intact. A Toyota dealership nearby suffered broken windows.

In an effort to prevent other accidents, Beijing has ordered stepped-up inspections of hazardous storage facilities and chemical plants throughout the country. But an explosion that killed one person on Aug. 22 at Shandong Runxing New Material, operator of an adiponitrile plant in Yantai in the coastal province of Shandong, highlighted shortcomings. According to local media reports, officials had inspected Runxing just days earlier. The government of Yantai says it is reviewing its practices.

International providers of chemical shipping and logistics services are expecting disruptions and possibly higher costs in the near future for chemicals moving into or out of China. In a recent blog post, Calisto Radithipa, a cofounder of the mining chemicals supplier Kemcore, said he anticipates the delicensing of some Chinese handlers of hazardous goods, which could mean higher prices.

Damage to shipping facilities in Tianjin is hampering freight operations in what is one of China’s largest cities. But Arnie Bornstein, spokesman for the shipping and logistics firm BDP International, expects that the disruption will be minimal for companies that carefully manage their logistics and have contingency plans.



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