Update: 78 confirmed dead after Chinese chemicals plant explosion

Article by Amanda Jasi

ON 25 March the death toll following an explosion at a Chinese chemicals plant rose to 78, reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP), with 56 of the dead identified. SCMP said this is the deadliest industrial accident since the 2015 Tianjin explosion.

More than 600 people were injured, and survivors are being treated at 16 hospitals.

The blast occurred at about 14:50 local time on 21 March at a plant in Chenjiagang Industrial Park, in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, eastern China. It followed a fire which broke out at the plant, and reportedly involved benzene. The plant was owned by Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Company.

The Armed Police Force recently dispatched a team of 400 people to assist in the rescue efforts, reports Xinhua. Previously about 1,000 officers and soldiers of the Armed Police Force had been working at the blast site. Members of the new team are specialists in chemical defence, engineering, and transport. The team has reportedly brought equipment with them such as chemicals reconnaissance and decontamination vehicles.

The explosion and resulting shockwave flattened the Tianjiayi Chemical plant, and damaged other facilities in the park. Nearby buildings, including schools, and cars were also damaged. According to an SCMP report, the industrial park where the plant was located is 500 m from the nearest village. The shockwave that resulted from the blast reportedly caused damage as far as 6 km away.

The ten local schools in Jiangsu which temporarily closed following the blast reopened on 25 March, reports Xinhua. More than 100 students were injured. Though the schools were damaged during the explosion there were no structural damages and the schools were repaired and cleaned over the weekend. Counselling and safety education were arranged for the students during lessons on 25 March.

More than 1,000 homes near the blast were damaged, reports SCMP. Remaining repairs are to be carried out within the week, though a local resident was sceptical about this estimate and said it could take “months or even a year”. It’s reported that residents of homes that cannot be fixed will be compensated or they can apply to be relocated.

Environmental workers have said that air quality in the area is now safe “thanks to high winds,” reports Xinhua. Previously, unsafe levels of nitrogen oxide were reported.

According to a Xinhua report the authorities have developed a preliminary plan for treating water that was polluted following the explosion. Reportedly, waterways in the industrial park which connect to a local river were polluted following the explosion. The waterways have been dammed to prevent contamination from spreading, and an environmental team has ordered that the polluted water be stored until it can be treated. The team was sent by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment to guide the environmental measures at the site.

In line with the recent comments made by Chinese president, Xi Jinping, a Xinhua report said that China is to strengthen control and management of dangerous chemicals, and that risk assessments will be conducted in all chemical industrial parks to eliminate safety hazards. The report added that authorities will inspect enterprises involved in nitration manufacturing and storage to ensure they comply with regulations on dangerous chemicals. Authorities should also continue with “strict law enforcement, and strengthen safety checks in mining, transport and construction industries to prevent accidents,” reports Xinhua.

Following the recent incident, a team was created to investigate.

According to SCMP, observers believe that Beijing will take action against company officials considered to be partially responsible for the incident. Previously it was reported that executives of Tianjiayi Chemical were detained by police.

Separately, SCMP reports that a man was arrested for spreading rumours claiming that 18 firefighters were killed by toxic fumes while responding to the explosion, adding that the rumour was dismissed by authorities.

SCMP reports that the recent incident at a Tianjiayi Chemical plant has “sparked public fear and anger” as this is not the first indication of safety violations by the company. Last year 13 safety violations were found at the plant. In addition, the plant has reportedly received fines and warnings for safety violations in the past. SCMP adds that there have previously been smaller explosions at Chenjiagang Industrial Park, one of which killed eight people.

The team investigating the incident criticised local authorities and company bosses for failing to solve safety issues that were identified after earlier incidents, reports SCMP.

The Chinese Government claimed that it would crack down on industrial safety following the 2015 Tianjin explosion which killed 165 people, injured 798 and left eight people missing. But these events continue to happen, much to the public’s dismay. For example, last year a blast caused by a chemical gas leak killed 23 people and another blast at a chemicals plant killed 19 people.

SCMP reports that the recent blast will directly impact the supply of m-phenylenediamine, a chemical intermediary used in dye production, which the Tianjiayi Chemical plant manufactured.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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