Residents Evacuated After Fire Sparks Blast at PX Plant in China's Fujian

china-fujian-plant-blast-april-2015.jpg A fire burns through a chemical plant following a blast in Fujian province, April 6, 2015.

Local residents were evacuated after a massive explosion rocked a controversial chemical plant in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian was caused by a fire in a facility that makes paraxylene, or PX, official media said on Tuesday.

Six people were hospitalized following the blast, which rocked the Tenglong Aromatic Hydrocarbon (Zhangzhou) Co on the Gulei peninsula outside Fujian's Zhangzhou city on Monday evening, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"According to investigators, a xylene facility leaked oil and caught fire, which led to blasts and a fire at three nearby oil storage tanks," the agency said.

Photos of the incident showed flames belching into the night sky, with silhouettes of rescue workers in the foreground.

Other reports said at least 14 people were injured.

Villagers injured

The blast shattered windows in nearby Xingzai village and caused some objects to fall, injuring some villagers, according to posts on social media.

Local resident Chen Guisan said the fire had continued to burn for some time after the explosion.

"It blew up, and it's still burning now," he told RFA, more than an hour after the blast. "I am standing near the PX plant, right next to the sea."

A Chinese journalist near the scene, who declined to be identified, said the blast was "much fiercer" than the July 2013 explosion.

"On top of that, this stuff is carcinogenic and toxic, and the pollution could affect the entire Zhangzhou district," the journalist said.

The PX plant, owned by Taiwanese petrochemical group Xianglu,  was built on the Gulei peninsula after spontaneous mass protests in June 2007 forced local officials to reconsider a plan to locate it in the coastal city of Xiamen.

An official who answered the phone at the Zhangzhou municipal government offices on Monday night said officials had rushed to the scene.

"All the relevant people from the municipal government have already gone down there," he said. "When there is more information, the government will announce it."

Public trust damaged

An earlier blast was reported in July 2013, and the string of safety incidents will likely damage public trust in the petrochemicals industry, China's tightly controlled media reported.

"The massive explosion at a chemical factory in Zhangzhou, Fujian province is likely to reinforce mounting public distrust towards the government's oversight of petrochemical projects," the online edition of the cutting-edge financial magazine Caixin said in an opinion piece on Tuesday.

"But as the fallout from the disaster continues to brew, regulators must bring factories in line with international practices of safety oversight to control the damage," the article said.

Local media reports have alleged that the authorities gave the go-ahead for the PX plant before the environmental impact assessment was even completed.

Jiangsu-based environmental activist Wu Lihong said PX plants have generated mass public protests wherever they are proposed in recent years.

"There was a PX project proposed in Ningbo that met with strident public opposition, because people are afraid that the government won't carry out environmental impact assessments responsibly," Wu said.

"If there is [an issue] with the environmental impact assessment, then companies like this shouldn't be given loans by the banks."

Anxiety increases

Wu said the blast, coming so soon after the July 2013 incident, would likely increase local people's anxiety about the plant.

"Chemical plants don't just affect the surrounding environment; they make all the people who live near them fear for their lives," Wu said.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered outside the gates of a cement factory in the southern province of Guangdong amid growing public anger over plans to build a waste incinerator on the site, residents said on Tuesday.

Thousands of residents of Langtang township near Guangdong's Yunfu city gathered on Tuesday outside the gates of the Huarun Cement Factory following clashes with riot police on Monday evening, they said.

"Today there are still several thousand people outside the gates, and several hundred [police officers]," a resident who asked to remain anonymous told RFA on Tuesday.

He said dozens of people had been injured in clashes between police and protesters on Monday.

"Even children were injured, because yesterday they beat up some kids who were holding a banner," the Langtang resident said. "They beat up and detained around 50 people altogether. They were all injured."

He said those detained hadn't been released by Tuesday afternoon local time, and that the Yunfu municipal government had threatened further police action if crowds didn't disperse.

"The mayor has come here to hold talks," he said. "I heard that if things aren't resolved, they'll bring in police reinforcements from Yunfu city."

Residents are protesting plans to build a waste incinerator plant within the cement factory, but Yunfu officials hadn't addressed these concerns, he said.

"Nobody has responded to that," the resident said.

Local people, who live within a 2-3 kilometer radius of the plant, say they fear toxic pollution if the garbage incinerator is built there.

A second Langtang resident who declined to be named said the authorities had gone ahead with plans for the plant without consulting local people, who had only found out in recent weeks.

"The smoke that comes out of these places is full of chemicals, and it has a very harmful effect on the human body," he said. "That kind of pollution is shocking."

"Until now, we haven't had much industry around here, apart from the cement factory, so we haven't had much pollution," he added.

"They didn't announce it. They didn't announce a thing," he said. "We only found out about this project because someone from our township works there, so we got together to talk about how to oppose it."

He said preliminary digging work has already begun on the proposed plant.

"We will protest every day until they stop," he said. "We won't be leaving."

"We're not afraid, because ... our lives could be in danger, so we are willing to pay for this protest with our lives," he said.

Reported by Luo Bote, Wei Ling and Lam Lok-tung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan and Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.