Paraxylene (PX)

Toxic alert after second series of blasts at Chinese chemical plant in two years

Fourteen injured after explosions. Officials say no traces so far of contimination beyond plant

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2015, 3:44pm

At least 14 people were injured, with six in a stable condition in hospital, after a series of explosions at a chemical factory in southern China on Monday evening.

It was the second time in two years that there have been blasts at the plant in Zhangzhou in Fujian province.

Firefighters had brought the blaze under control on Tuesday morning and fires in two of three burning oil tanks had been extinguished, the fire department in Fujian province said in a statement on social media.

The explosions at the paraxylene plant in Zhangzhou were caused by an oil spill near the tanks, according to officials at an emergency command centre at the scene.

No chemical leaks or traces have been detected in villages downwind of the plant, the provincial government’s press office said.

The injured include four firefighters.

About 350 police and more than 600 firefighters were still at the scene on Tuesday morning.

More than 400 soldiers have also been deployed to help deal with the incident, the provincial government said.

Watch: Explosion at China chemical plant causes casualties

The plant, owned by Taiwanese petrochemical group Xianglu, is a major paraxylene, or PX, producer on the mainland. The company originally aimed to build it in Xiamen, but changed sites after public opposition led to a rare mass protest in 2007.

The Zhangzhou fire department said earlier on its microblog that toxic chemicals had leaked and a number of people were injured by glass from the blast.

A photo by a local resident showed a man covered by blood and glass. 

Doctors from the Nanjing military region's No175 Hospital and 120 chemical defence battalion soldiers were deployed with 200 gas masks, according to state television.

Photos posted online by residents showed the plant engulfed in fire and a mushroom-shaped cloud of thick, black smoke rising from the factory.

The city fire department said it received a report about the fire at about 7pm and sent 131 vehicles and more than 700 firefighters from several other Fujian cities to the scene.

Lin Chen, a resident of Liuao county which is across a harbour from the plant, told the South China Morning Post how he felt the explosion. Lin's flat is about 10km from the blast site.

"I heard a loud 'bang' at home and my flat shook. Everyone in my county saw it. The plant was burning," Lin said. "We can still see it. But I don't smell anything weird now. I think it's because we are upwind [of the blast site]."

Lin said some people were still living near the plant, but many had moved away since the first explosion about two years ago. There was also an explosion at the plant in July 2013. No casualties or toxic leaks were reported in that incident.

Witnesses told The Beijing News that residents near the factory were evacuated to about 18km away. And some villagers fled to nearby islands by boat.

Taiwan's Central News Agency said the plant was owned by fugitive tycoon Chen Yu-hao, who was indicted in 2003 for allegedly embezzling NT$70 billion. He later fled to the mainland and established the factory.

Paraxylene - a chemical used in manufacturing polyester clothing and plastic bottles - is dangerous if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and can damage abdominal organs and the nervous system.