Tuesday April 23, 2019

China to Put Chemical Industry under Tight Scrutiny and Regulation after Chemical Plant Explosion

Authorities continue investigating the cause of last Friday’s blast in Chenjiagan Industrial Park in Xiangshui county, which injured another 600 people

china, chemical industry
Relatives look for a missing worker at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical following an explosion, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 23, 2019. VOA

China has launched a month-long nationwide probe into hazardous chemicals, mines, transportation, and fire safety one week after a chemical plant explosion in eastern Jiangsu province killed 78 people.

Observers say that will put the world’s largest chemical industry under tighter scrutiny and regulation of the management of hazardous chemicals to prevent similar man-made disasters from happening again.

Some argue the sector’s malpractice and corruption is so deeply-rooted, however, that any quick-fix measures are unlikely to change the “blood-stained” growth pattern of the industry.

china, chemical industry
Relatives look for a missing worker at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical following an explosion, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 23, 2019. VOA

Ongoing probe

Authorities continue investigating the cause of last Friday’s blast in Chenjiagan Industrial Park in Xiangshui county, which injured another 600 people.

State media reported that a manufacturing facility belonging to Tianjiayi Chemical Co that contained benzene, a highly flammable chemical, has been linked to the blast.

Tianjiayi Chemical is a pesticide maker and producer of more than 30 chemical compounds. In February, the State Administration of Work Safety found 13 types of safety risks at the factory, including the mishandling of toxic benzene tanks.

According to local environmental protection bureaus, the producer has rolled up more than $262,000 in fines since 2016 for breaches of environmental regulations.

china, chemical industry
Paramilitary police officers in protective suits make their way to the site following explosion at the pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical, in Xiangshui county, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 22, 2019. VOA

“The explosion in Xiangshui has uncovered much negligence in law enforcement. For example, the staff’s [lack of] qualifications [in managing hazardous chemicals],” said Cao Mingde, professor of law, environment legislation at the China University of Political Science and Law.

“Also,” he added, “two top executives of Tianjiayi Chemical who have been convicted of violations of environment pollution and illegal management of hazardous chemicals, should have been banned from undertaking similar business ventures” for a minimum period of two years.

Lessons not learned

Mingde said a sweeping overhaul of China’s chemical sector is much needed, with an urgency to facilitate legislation governing the management of hazardous chemicals and tighten regulations to ensure strict enforcement.

Similar calls, though, were heard in the wake of the 2015 blast in Tianjin that took 173 lives.

But few lessons appear to have been learned as statistics show that 620 chemical accidents have occurred over the past three years, claiming a total of 728 lives.

china, chemical industry
Worker Hu is seen bandaged at a hospital after he was injured following an explosion at a pesticide plant owned by Tianjiayi Chemical in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, China, March 24, 2019. VOA

“There is an urgent need to enact the Dangerous Chemical Safety Law and bring systemic change to chemical management,” said Greenpeace East Asia toxics campaigner Deng Tingting in an email to VOA.

She noted that a national law, which was proposed after the Tianjin explosion, is still being drafted. The law has been slowed because of government restructuring and resistance from industries.

After the Tianjin blast, the investigative body proposed using market mechanisms to encourage better management, increasing transparency, and improving the legal system. But she said few of those suggestions have been implemented.

Illicit industries

Citing the matter’s sensitivity, a representative at Jiangsu Chemical Industry Association and a chemistry engineering professor, contacted by VOA, refused to comment.

An industry insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, blamed illicit businesses, saying the government can’t possibly monitor the country’s 26,000-strong chemical producers 24/7 like a babysitter.

He also argued that the minimum distance between a chemical plant and a residential area, currently at 500 meters by law, should be flexible in accordance with the risk level a chemical plant poses.

Both Cao and Deng urged increasing the minimum distance as it seems insufficient to prevent risks after several schools and kindergartens, located two kilometers away from the Jiangsu blast site, were found to have been affected. Estimates show that one-third of the country’s chemical producers are set up in densely-populated areas.

china, chemical industry
FILE – Rescue workers try to put out a fire after an explosion at a chemical plant inside an industrial park in Yibin, Sichuan province, China July 12, 2018. VOA

Wu Lihong, a long-time environmental activist in Jiangsu, is pessimistic about pledges to overhaul the sector. He claimed local officials not only cut corners, but also take bribes and collude with businesses to maximize the province’s or their own personal gains.

The province has the highest number of chemical producers with approximately 4,500.

“Over the past decade, Jiangsu has made one of the largest financial contributions to the central government,” said Wu. “It serves as a cash cow for the central government. So, businesses go to authorities, who will cut corners for them by lowering environmental standards or making their trouble go away, even if an explosion is involved.”

Making things worse, the sector’s financially-disadvantaged workers often side with their business owners in fending off environmentalists or reporters, who try to bring their malpractice or pollution to light.

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“Workers at chemical plants [are fully aware that] their own health is at risk, but they are given a salary level, which is 35 to 50 percent higher than that of their peers in the shoemaking and metal hardware industries,” Wu said. “So, many take up the chores, putting incomes before their health. People in the poor county of Xiangshui [are short-sighted and] would prefer to be poisoned to death than starved to death,”

Any whistleblowers there will be violently suppressed or even imprisoned, he said. This is something he knows from personal experience; Wu previously served a three-year jail term when a local court enacted retribution for his 10-year crusade against pollution in the Jiangsu’s Lake Tai. (VOA)

Next Story

Samsung Galaxy Fold Launch Postponed in China: Report

The Galaxy Fold is expected to be priced around Rs 1,40,790 in India

samsung foldable phone
FILE - The Samsung Galaxy Fold phone is shown on a screen at Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s Unpacked event in San Francisco, Feb. 20, 2019. Samsung says it will look into some reports of flickering or cracking screens. VOA

Samsung has postponed the Galaxy Fold’s launch events in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were originally scheduled for April 23 and 24, days after some units of the $2,000 foldable phone encountered major display issues.

“The firm is blaming the decision on a last minute issue with the venue, according to someone claiming to be familiar with the matter.

“But that seems a little too convenient seeing as the handset has been under heavy fire all week, after a number of units broke after being in the hands of reviewers for less than a day,” the SamMobile reported late on Sunday.

Tech reviewers from renowned media brands like The Verge and the CNBC noted issues like screen flickering, display distortion and unexplainable bulges bugging the industry-first device, reports said last week.

The handset maker obviously doesn’t want to associate these delays with the broken review units, but given the timing, chances are Samsung wants to buy more time to address these issues before the next wave of shipments, according to the Engadget.

Sub-titling the review “Yikes”, The Verge said that the flaws were “distressing to be discovered just two days after receiving the review unit”.

Smartphone, tablet folded phone
DJ Koh, president and CEO of IT and Mobile Communications, holds up the new Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone during an event, Feb. 20, 2019, in San Francisco. VOA

Defending its devices just days before its roll-out, a Samsung spokesperson assured that the firm would “thoroughly inspect” the units.

The super-expensive foldable smartphone was launched during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February followed by Huawei launching its own foldable phone, the Mate X.

According to market research firm Gartner, foldable phones would make up 5 per cent of high-end phones sales by 2023 with around 30 million units.

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The phone comes with the world’s first 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display, which folds into a compact device with a cover display that is capable of opening up to three active apps simultaneously on the main display.

The Galaxy Fold is expected to be priced around Rs 1,40,790 in India. (IANS)