China jails 53 people for March 2019 chemical plant explosion that killed 78
01 December 2020
A court in China jailed 53 people on November 30 after they were convicted of charges including bribery and negligence in relation to the March 2019 chemical plant explosion in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province that killed 78 people, injured 76 and caused a direct economic loss of 198,350,700 Chinese Yuan (£22.6m).
The plant before the blast - Image: Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical
Executives and employees of the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical company, which owned the impacted chemical factory, received sentences that ranged from 18 months to 20 years in prison. Several local officials also received sentences.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the Intermediate People’s Court of Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province found that Tianjiayi Chemical ignored national environmental protection and production safety laws and regulations, stored and disposed of nitrification waste in violation of laws and regulations for an extended period of time, and had a disorderly management, all of which led to the significant blast on March 21, 2019.
The courts also found that before the incident, Tianjiayi Chemical and its holding company Nijiaxiang Group had jointly decided to launch a new production line even if Tianjiayi’s technology and equipment failed. The companies then knowingly produced and stored hazardous chemicals despite having unsuitable storage areas that did not meet safety requirements.
Xinhua also reports that six local government agencies, including Yancheng City’s Environmental Monitoring Centre, had issued false and inaccurate documents to hide the risks posed by Tianjiayi Chemical’s actions. Some officials were also found guilty of taking bribes.
The former General Manager of Tianjiayi Chemical, Zhang Qinyue, was found guilty of illegally storing dangerous substances, environmental pollution, and bribery. He received a fixed-term imprisonment of 20 years, deprivation of political rights for five years, and fined 1.55 million Chinese Yuan (£176,000).
Four people, including the former Deputy General Manager, Safety Director, and Chief Engineer of Tianjiayi Chemical were sentenced to six to nine years in prison for the illegal storage of dangerous substances and environmental pollution, and fined. Nijiaxiang Group’s Chairman and General Manager were sentenced to 12 and 13 years in prison.
The six local government agencies found guilty of falsifying documents faced fines of between 100,000 Yuan (£14,000) and one million Yuan (£114,000). Individuals at the agencies were also given prison sentences of between four to nine months and fined.
Xinhua news agency reports that after the sentencing, most of the defendants pleaded guilty and repented in court and did not issue an appeal.
Following the incident, the Chinese government stepped up efforts in October 2019 to end the illegal dumping of hazardous chemical waste by 2025. As part of a nationwide crackdown on the chemical industry following the Tianjiayi Chemical blast, a plan was established to relocate 80% of toxic chemicals away from residential areas. The government has said that all regions must have a comprehensive hazardous chemical monitoring system in place by the end of 2025. Hazardous waste treatment will also be part of a new corporate environmental credit system which will see firms being publicly blacklisted and denied financial assistance if they violate the new rules.
The safety crackdown could force hundreds of smaller, private firms out of the market, leading to consolidation while also modernising the chemical sector and driving it towards more efficient production.