China Closes 'Hazardous' Factories After Deadly Suzhou Blast

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People pray for the victims of an explosion at the factory of Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co., Ltd. in Kunshan city, Aug. 2, 2014.
People pray for the victims of an explosion at the factory of Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co., Ltd. in Kunshan city, Aug. 2, 2014.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou have shuttered more than 200 factories pending safety checks in the wake of a massive explosion at a car parts factory that killed at least 75 people, official media reported.

The explosions tore through a polishing workshop owned by Taiwanese-invested Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products on Aug. 2.

Local officials have accused the factory management of a "very serious dereliction of duty," blaming excessive metal dust for the explosion, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, reported.

China's cabinet, the State Council, has now ordered a full-on safety check of factories processing aluminum, magnesium, coal, wood, paper, tobacco, cotton and plastic, as well as other potentially flammable or explosive materials, it said.

On Tuesday, relatives of those killed in the explosion took to the streets in protest at a lack of progress on identifying their loved ones' remains, which has to be carried out through DNA testing.

The uncertainty has left desperate relatives scouring local hospitals for news of loved ones, with no official confirmation that they were killed in the blast, if missing.

Angry relatives are continuing to stage a sit-in outside the Kunshan International Exhibition Center until they receive official confirmation of their loved ones' deaths.

"It's not their intention to make trouble," a local resident surnamed Xu told RFA.

"I know two people who were connected to [this disaster]," she said. "One was my dad's colleague's wife who was working in there, but they can't find her remains."

"They are pretty desperate about it. The other is an ex-boyfriend of my colleague; in the end they found him at the hospital."

"The relatives are going crazy ... They just want to find their loved ones, and to see them if they're alive, and if not, to see their body."

Tests underway

An official who answered the phone at the Kunshan municipal government confirmed that some of the DNA results hadn't yet been finalized.

"We are very busy trying to deal with the situation at the moment; of course everyone is very worried," the official said.

"The relatives came here [on Tuesday] but many of the tests have now been completed, and more are being completed as we speak," the official said.

The official said the strong police presence reported by relatives in the city had been "sent by higher up."

"This was a big incident, so of course they are aware of it."

Workplace safety

Meanwhile, Chinese labor activists and academics have issued an open letter calling for workers themselves to be given the right to supervise workplace safety, Chinese media reported.

According to the letter, the blasts had occurred shortly after a round of safety inspections by Kunshan municipal government from July 16-25.

And yet Zhongrong had failed to remove hazardous dust, install proper ventilation equipment or dust-level monitors, or provide workers with adequate protective clothing, the letter said.

The letter called for workplace trade unions to play an active role in "eliminating hazards, preventing the company from violating labour rights, resolving labour disputes, and promoting harmonious labour relations," according to a translation posted on the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) website.

Within two days of being posted online, the letter had been signed by 15 organizations and 443 individuals, CLB said, citing Caixin.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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