China Factory Blast Death Toll Rises to 71

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The Straits Times (Singapore)

August 4, 2014

Copyright 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Limited All Rights Reserved

The death toll from an explosion at a Taiwan-invested car parts factory in China climbed to 71, as a labor rights group cast doubt on the factory's safety measures.

The blast on Saturday in a wheel hub polishing workshop at Zhongrong Metal Products in Kunshan, near Shanghai, also left 186 injured, many with severe burns and respiratory problems.

The death toll, announced by city officials at a news conference, rose as more bodies were discovered in the partly destroyed factory, it said. The factory supplied car companies such as United States giant General Motors (GM).

Kunshan mayor Lu Jun on Saturday classified the incident as a "severe" industrial accident, which a preliminary investigation showed was caused by the ignition of powder or dust from the production process.

The authorities have detained five company officials, the People's Daily newspaper reported.

President Xi Jinping demanded harsh punishment for those responsible for the explosion and sent a team to oversee the rescue work and investigate the incident.

China has a dismal industrial safety record as some owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.

U.S.-based China Labor Watch, a workers' rights group, said proper measures could have prevented the accident: "Safety measures like ventilation systems should have prevented such accumulation of dust particles. This tragedy is a result of lax safety standards in the workplace."

Dust suspended in the air in the right concentration can cause explosions, safety experts said, with materials that do not normally burn in larger pieces becoming explosive in certain conditions.

A doctor treating the injured said this type of burn presented special challenges to treat. The blast tore the clothes off workers, with the burns turning their skin grey or black.

Zhongrong was a contractor for a global supplier of GM, Dicastal, though the US company did not have direct contact with it, GM said in a statement yesterday.

"Our direct suppliers are required to source from tier-2 suppliers who must meet both in-country environment and safety standards, as well as quality standards," it said.

China had 644 of what it calls "large" accidents in the first seven months of this year, killing 2,695 people, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.

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