15 killed and 25 injured in ammonia leak at Shanghai refrigeration plant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 September, 2013, 2:23am

At least 15 people were killed and 25 injured yesterday when ammonia leaked from an industrial refrigeration plant in Shanghai.

The accident, in the city's Baoshan district, is the worst of its kind on public record.

Five of the injured were in critical condition, the Shanghai government said.

Authorities did not name the victims, but it appeared all were employed at the facility, operated by Weng's Cold Storage Industrial Company.

One of the injured, Gu Qijue, who was being treated in the Dachang Hospital in Baoshan, said: "It smelled much worse than smoke from a fire. I sprawled on the ground and could not speak. Then I felt faint."

Gu told Xinhua that she was in a dormitory on the fourth floor when she smelled a strong odour. She was rescued by firefighters. Most of the workers are women from neighbouring provinces.

It was not known how much ammonia was released, but residents 15 kilometres downwind in Zhabei district, closer to the city centre, told the Sunday Morning Post that they had smelled it.

By yesterday afternoon, authorities had still not released any information on the cause.

Han Zheng, the city's party secretary, urged work safety officials to "complete their investigation and make public the results as soon as possible".

A fire safety expert in Wuhan, Hubei said an ammonia leak should not have caused so many deaths if the hazard prevention measures and evacuation routes were in order.

"When such an accident happens, as with a fire, the ventilation system should be activated automatically to suck out toxic gas, and workers should evacuate via a designated route," he said. "It is likely that either the ventilation or escape routes failed, if not both."

It is the second fatal ammonia leak on the mainland this year. A similar cold storage accident in Meishan, Sichuan, killed four people and injured 24 in April.