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Industrial Safety

ChemChina plant leak is identified as cause of blast that killed 23 in China

Delivery truck was initially blamed as source of the tragedy

by Jean-François Tremblay
December 4, 2018

20181204lnp1-explosion.jpg
Credit: Xinhua News Agency/Newscom
Firefighters respond to an explosion at the Shenghua chemical plant in Zhangjiakou, China.

After some initial confusion, investigators have identified a vinyl chloride leak at a ChemChina facility as the cause of a huge blast that killed 23 in the northern China city of Zhangjiakou. Most victims of the explosion were sitting in trucks that were waiting outside the factory, run by Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry, a subsidiary of state-owned ChemChina.

“This is a relatively new facility,” says David S. Jiang, president of the Beijing-based chemical industry consulting firm Sinodata, noting that he visited the plant recently.

The Chinese media initially reported that the spontaneous ignition of a truck delivering acetylene to a nearby facility was behind the Nov. 28 disaster. An investigation led by China’s Ministry of Emergency Management later identified the vinyl chloride leak as the cause. Shenghua uses the intermediate to produce polyvinyl chloride.

In a contrite statement on its website, ChemChina said “the occurrence of this accident reflects serious problems in our safety management.”

A committee under the State Council, China’s highest decision-making body, promised to further raise China’s commitment to industrial safety.

The Chinese government had already ratcheted up its supervision of companies that produce or use hazardous goods following a 2015 explosion at a storage facility in Tianjin that killed more than 100 people. The crackdown has led to complaints from chemical producers about excessive red tape.

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