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Chemical blast kills dozens in China

This time, tragedy occurred in Jiangsu, one of the country’s most developed provinces

by Jean-François Tremblay, special to C&EN
March 28, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 13

A photo of the response to a chemical plant explosion in China.
Credit: AP
The blast at Jiangsu Tianjiaji Chemical sent black smoke billowing over the city of Yancheng.

An explosion at a plant producing chemical intermediates killed at least 78 people and sent hundreds to the hospital in the city of Yancheng in China’s coastal Jiangsu province. The tragedy occurred on March 21, less than four months after a blast outside a chemical plant owned bystate-run ChemChina in the northern Chinese province of Hebei killed 23 people.

The latest accident took place 250 km northwest of Shanghai at Jiangsu Tianjiaji Chemical, a company that, according to statements from the government of Yancheng, mostly produced m-hydroxybenzoic acid and anisole. In business since 2007, the firm has 195 employees, according to official statements.

The response to the explosion was a massive effort involving 192 fire engines drawn from 12 different jurisdictions. Yancheng city officials say they conducted environmental tests after the blast to check for water and air contamination.

The explosion marks another setback in China’s effort to improve industrial safety after a massive explosion at a hazardous goods warehouse in Tianjin in 2015 killed more than 170 people. A 2016 Greenpeace report found that through August of that year China had roughly one chemical-related accident a day; the report tabulated 199 deaths and 400 injuries.

In Beijing, a committee of the State Council created to deal with the latest tragedy blamed local officials in Jiangsu for not being “serious” in their enforcement of industrial safety regulations. The committee noted that Tianjiaji was allowed to operate despite previous fines for safety violations.

Beijing has ordered new safety inspections at chemical plants nationwide. But relatively affluent Jiangsu province was already viewed as having some of the country’s strictest enforcement of safety and environmental regulations.

Gian Paolo Negrisoli, CEO of the Italian fine chemical maker Flamma, says China has very strict safety rules, which Flamma is navigating as it designs a facility in Dalian. But they are not always recognized. “Some workers, despite the rules, don’t consider safety rules a priority, creating conditions for accidents,” he says.


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