World | Asia

September 01, 2015

Large Chemical Blast Rips Through Chinese City

A large chemical fire and explosion ripped through an industrial zone in a northeastern Chinese city late Monday, killing at least one person, local officials said, less than a month after deadly chemical blasts in the nearby city of Tianjin raised concerns about industrial safety in China.

A social-media account run by the government of the city of Dongying, in China’s Shandong province, said that a fire erupted at a chemical facility before midnight Monday and was extinguished by 4:20 a.m. Tuesday.

State broadcaster China National Radio posted images on its official social media account showing a fireball rising over what appeared to be an industrial zone.

Local officials said the fire broke out at a facility owned by Shandong Binyuan Chemical Ltd., but they didn't say what kind of facility it was. The officials said that after an inspection, Shandong Binyuan had been instructed not to attempt what they described as trial production operations, but the company did so anyway. The officials didn’t explain what those operations were.

The government social media account said that six people were detained, but didn’t elaborate.

The explosion comes after Aug. 12 blasts in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin killed at least 158 people and raised scrutiny of how hazardous chemicals are stored in China.

The warehouse at the center of the Tianjin blast was storing toxic material, including hundreds of metric tons of sodium cyanide, a white powder that is commonly used in industrial mining to extract gold from rocks.

That warehouse was within 1 kilometer, or 0.6 mile, of residences and other public places, despite Chinese rules forbidding such proximity.

The Wall Street Journal reported other warehouses in Tianjin licensed to store hazardous chemicals were located within 1 kilometer of public places like residences, a hospital and a highway.

Chinese leaders have tried to assuage public concern, ordering a thorough investigation of the Tianjin blasts—which were large enough to be detected by earthquake sensors—as well as nationwide inspections of dangerous chemicals and explosives.

Last week, prosecutors accused 11 municipal officials and port executives of negligence and abuse of power in connection with the explosion. The accused have been detained and couldn’t be reached last week to comment.

Investigators found that municipal officials with regulatory powers over hazardous-chemical operations “hadn’t taken their duties seriously and issued business permits illegally” and failed to properly supervise Ruihai International Logistics Co., the warehouse operator.

Warehouse developers have said they are bracing for tougher scrutiny on a sector already plagued by a shortage of safe storage spaces for hazardous goods. The storage crunch has spurred some businesses to take shortcuts, stockpiling hazardous chemicals in subpar warehouses that don’t fulfill the higher standards on construction and design required for dangerous goods, according to people in the industry.

Text by Wall Street Journal
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