22 perish in blast outside chemical plant

China | Associated Press 29 Nov 2018

An explosion outside a chemical plant in northeastern China early yesterday killed at least 22 people and destroyed scores of vehicles, in the latest challenge to efforts to boost industrial safety in the world's second-largest economy.

The blast occurred just after midnight at a loading area next to the plant operated by the Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry Company, according to a statement from the Zhangjiakou city government. The plant is located in Zhangjiakou, which is to play host to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Another 22 people were injured and 38 trucks and 12 passenger cars were destroyed by fire, the statement said.

"We request that citizens do not go to the site to watch in order to avoid disrupting recovery efforts," it said.

A city government official said the accident's cause was still under investigation and no other information could be provided.

Investigators suspect a truck carrying the highly flammable compound ethane for use by a separate nearby chemical factory exploded as it was passing the Shenghua plant, Xinhua news agency reported. The flames then spread to other trucks but not to the Shenghua complex itself, which continued to operate as normal.

Footage from state broadcaster China Central Television showed rows of charred tanker trucks with smoke still rising from some of them, hours after the explosion occurred.

On its website, Hebei Shenghua described itself as a "backbone enterprise of the city, and for the domestic chlor-alkali industry and one of the Top 500 chemical enterprises in the country."

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the chlor-alkali electrolysis process is used mainly to manufacture chlorine, along with hydrogen and sodium hydroxide solution.

Chlorine is one of the most commonly produced chemicals, widely used in the textile and paper industries, as well as for general cleaning and disinfecting and as a raw material for synthetic organic chemistry.

Other products made at the plant include PVC resins, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, oxygen, chlorine, dissolved acetylene, coated kettle agent, water treatment chemicals and new building materials.

Industrial safety is a major concern in the mainland, where requirements for the storage and transport of chemicals and other dangerous products are often weakly enforced.

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