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August 4, 2006


Chemical Plant Blast Kills 22 People In China

Jean Fran??ois Tremblay

A July 28 explosion at a chemical plant in Jiangsu, China, killed 22 people and injured 29 others. The facility was in the process of starting up production of fluorobenzene, an explosive material used in pharmaceutical and agrochemical production.

The accident occurred in Linhai County, Sheyang Township, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, at a facility owned by Jiangsu Yancheng Fuyuan Chemical Co.

News reports have described Fuyuan as a Sino-German joint venture, but there is no mention of a German partner on the company's website, where the firm calls itself a Chinese entity founded in 1958 and privatized in 1998. Fuyuan says it has secured both ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 certifications.

Sun Hua Shan, vice director of China's State Administration of Work Safety, visited the scene of the accident and promised a thorough investigation. He said a top priority was to control contaminated water left at the site. He added that the gravity of the accident showed that Fuyuan had not been operating within the law.

Ng Ka Ming, a professor at and former head of the department of chemical engineering of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, tells C&EN that fluorobenzene is "exceedingly easy to explode." During the start-up phase of a plant, he says, all equipment is normally purged with nitrogen. "If oxygen somehow gets inside the equipment head space, all it takes is a spark to blow up the place," Ng comments.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reports that the family of each person killed by the blast will receive $25,000 in compensation, although it is not clear who is paying.

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