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Industrial Safety

Deadly blast in China highlights uneven enforcement of safety regulations

Facilities where 19 died had not been inspected or approved

by Jean-François Tremblay
July 18, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 30


Credit: China/Newscom
Firefighters battle a blaze on July 12 at the Hengda Technology Chemical plant.

A huge blast followed by a blaze on July 12 at a chemical plant in southwest China killed 19 people and injured 12 more. The accident suggests that in spite of stricter enforcement of safety regulations since 2015, when an explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin killed 173 people, some Chinese firms continue to operate under lax, or even nonexistent, government supervision.

The accident, China’s worst involving chemicals since Tianjin, occurred at Hengda Technology, located in the Sichuan province city of Yibin. Little is known about the company, which doesn’t seem to have a website. Statements released by local and national authorities indicate that the company produced or handled unspecified hazardous chemicals.

Preliminary findings by China’s Ministry of Emergency Management show that Hengda was in breach of the most basic regulations. The ministry says the firm, although in an industrial park, did not have the proper licenses to operate. What the company did, how it did it, and who was employed there were unknown to authorities, the ministry found. Local authorities had failed to supervise the plant, the ministry added.

Following the 2015 blast in Tianjin, where investigators had discovered numerous safety violations and evidence of high-level corruption, China’s central government launched a three-year plan to tighten safety at industrial sites. Since then, thousands of chemical plants have been ordered to relocate to industrial parks away from residential areas.

Companies ordering or handling chemicals also have had to cope with new restrictions on shipping and warehousing, but Hengda appears to have escaped notice.


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