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Hundreds of factories closed after fatal China combustible dust blast

11 August 2014

China Times says a string of inspections following the massive explosion at a Kunshan metal processing facility in Eastern China has resulted in hundreds of factories being closed down. The blast at a wheel-polishing unit in a car parts plant operated by the Taiwan-owned Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products on 2 August killed 75 people and left 185 others injured. 

Stock image
Stock image

The Xinhua news agency said on 4 August that 95% of those injured in the explosion remained in critical condition in hospital.

The inspections are targeting factories that process aluminium and magnesium or involve wheel-polishing operations in China's eastern Jiangsu province and are expanding to Zhejiang province, Shanghai and Beijing.

A total of 214 factories in Suzhou City in Jiangsu were forced to halt their production activities for inspection and at least 135 factories there could be shut down, according to the Suzhou Administration of Safety. Working conditions at many wheel factories in the city are unacceptable, the administration said.

China Times quotes statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers that indicate that Jiangsu accounts for 40% of China's annual output of aluminium and magnesium wheels, worth a total of US$316 million.

The suspended factories were found to be at risk for combustible dust, the same reason given for the Kunshan blast where the ignition of metal powder or dust from the production process is thought to have caused the explosion, according to municipal government sources quoted by Xinhua.

The investigation led by a senior officer of the State Administration of Work Safety has concluded that a "very serious dereliction of duty" had caused the lethal blast. The president, general manager and manager of the factory, all Taiwanese nationals, have been detained under the charge of crimes against labour safety.

The disaster has achieved prominence in media and political circles. Even President Xi Jinping has become involved, demanding a full inquiry into the Zhongrong incident and insisting that those responsible be punished.

Zhongrong was a contractor for a global supplier of US giant General Motors (GM), Dicastal, though the US company did not have direct contact with it, GM said in a statement.

"Our direct suppliers are required to source from tier-2 suppliers who must meet both in-country environment and safety standards, as well as quality standards," GM said.

The Beijing Administration of Safety has launched a three-month round of inspection targeting industries involving coal, construction, transportation and explosive materials. The inspection will look at dust, flammable gases and chemical materials that pose safety risks, said the administration.

The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) has also called for a safety campaign targeting factories that process aluminium, magnesium, coal, wood, paper, tobacco, cotton and plastic, among other materials considered potential ignition sources.

According to Reuters, provinces such as Shaanxi, Tianjin and Sichuan, as well as Guangxi region, have also stepped up safety checks.

China had 644 of what it calls "large" accidents in the first seven months of this year, killing 2,695 people, according to SAWS.

In a similar accident two years ago, an explosion caused by combustible dust at an aluminium lock workshop in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed 13, according to state media.

An amount of aluminium powder at an abandoned railway factory in Jiangsu exploded and killed 11 people in 2009.

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