Chemical plant blast in central China kills 5 people

Video footage taken by witnesses shows yellow smoke coming out of the plant after the blast.
PHOTO: Weibo

An explosion at a chemical plant in the central Chinese province of Hubei has killed five people and injured one.

The incident took place around 2.15pm on Monday at a plant inside the Yuekou Industrial Park in the city of Tianmen, west of the provincial capital Wuhan, according to a notice from Hubei’s emergency management department.

Search and rescue efforts were under way, and the injured person was taken to hospital.

The notice said the plant was owned by the Tianmen Chutian Fine Chemical Company, which develops and produces pharmaceutical intermediates that are used in manufacturing drugs. An explosion occurred while the equipment at the chemical plant was being tested.

Video taken by witnesses, published online by mainland media outlets, showed yellow smoke rising into the air above the plant and one person being carried out from the building on a stretcher. A police vehicle, ambulance and firefighters were seen in the footage.

One witness told The Beijing News that the yellow smoke emitted from the plant could indicate a nitric acid leak.

Tianmen Chutian Fine Chemical Company did not immediately respond to requests for information about the cause of the explosion, the condition of the injured worker and the state of the plant.

According to its website, the company was founded in 1997 and had moved into the Yuekou Industrial Park in 2011.

Its advertised chemical products include dichloroacetamide and cyanoacetamide, which are considered hazardous.

Chongqing-based outlet Upstream News said the chemical company had previously been reported by local residents multiple times for releasing gases that caused irritation.

Industrial accidents are common in China, which has long had issues with workplace safety because of poor enforcement of regulations and negligence.

In August, an explosion in the Hubei city of Xiantao killed six people and injured four. Local authorities said the cause was irregular behaviour by the operators and a lack of risk identification.

Major industrial accidents in the past include a deadly chemical plant blast in the eastern province of Jiangsu in March 2019 that killed 78 people and was found to have been caused by prolonged illegal storage of hazardous waste.

In August 2015, a fire at a Tianjin warehouse caused a series of huge explosions that killed 173 people and injured some 800 more.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.