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After spate of explosions, Chinese authorities to increase oversight of chemical plants and speed up relocation plans

16 April 2019

Authorities said special experts will be designated to help govern the hazardous chemical industry in key areas, while speeding up efforts to move plants out of densely populated areas. The move comes as an investigation into a deadly explosion at a chemical plant in Jiangsu province continues.

Ministry of Emergency of Management press conference - Image: SCIO]
Ministry of Emergency of Management press conference - Image: SCIO]

The blast at Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co on March 21 claimed the lives of 78 and injured more than 600, and has resulted in 26 company managers and local officials being taken into custody. This is the most serious in a string of fatal incidents at Chinese chemical plants over the last two years and the Government has announced special measures to prevent similar incidents in future.

Counties where there are concentrations of chemical factories will be assigned at least two experts as special consultants to offer technical support to local authorities' supervision work, according to a guideline from the State Council's Work Safety Committee.

The document, published on April 15 by the Ministry of Emergency Management, said the experts will be chosen based on each of the counties' needs and in light of possible differences in their major types of chemical plants.

It said the experts will also contribute to emergency rescue and safety training work. While assisting enterprises in the construction of safety infrastructure, they are also expected to help enhance grassroots law enforcement capabilities.

"The facilities and technologies in the hazardous chemical industry are complicated by their variety, and they also involve many flammable and combustible materials with huge potential safety hazards," the document said, adding that with the industry's rapid development, new facilities and technologies continue to emerge, making supervision work increasingly demanding.

It has been an increasing challenge that officers lack the expertise needed for proper supervision, which has been "a bottleneck that hinders further improvement of safe production", it said.

Before the guideline's release, Wang Jiangping, vice-minister of industry and information technology, vowed to promote the relocation of hazardous chemical enterprises from densely populated areas by enhancing coordination in key areas and projects, according to a media release on April 15.

Wang made the comment during a conference of a special work group for the relocation of chemical plants, which has members from various central government bodies.

According to a circular released by the General Office of the State Council in September 2017, China plans to correct, move or shut down all hazardous chemical enterprises located close to residential areas by the end of 2025.

The minimum distance for different types of hazardous chemicals from residential areas vary in China's national standard, but many are set beyond 500 metres.

The country's top environmental watchdog has also pledged to enhance its management over chemicals.

Qiu Qiwen, head of solid waste and chemicals management at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said during a news conference late in March that the ministry would promote the draft of a special law or regulation regarding the assessment and control of environmental risks posed by chemicals.

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