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UPDATED: August 10, 2014 NO. 33, AUGUST 14, 2014
The Story Behind the Blast
An explosion in an auto parts plant has unveiled a myriad of safety violations
By Yuan Yuan

RACE AGAINST TIME: Medical personnel transport a victim at a hospital in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, on August 2 (CFP)

On August 2, an explosion ripped through a factory in Kunshan, east China's Jiangsu Province. As of August 5, the confirmed death toll had reached 75, with a further 185 having been injured.

The explosion came from the wheel-polishing workshop of an auto parts plant owned by Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co. A total of 265 workers were on site when the incident occurred.

The blast left two large holes in the factory's wall, with large equipment and pieces of broken glass scattered around.

Thick with dust

Kunshan Zhongrong is a Taiwanese-funded company located in Kunshan's economic and technological development zone, 70 km from Shanghai. On its website, the company states that it has 450 employees and lists General Motors as a client.

Only two months prior, a separate blaze hit the same workshop, though it was extinguished quickly and was quickly forgotten about. A middle-level manager who refused to give his full name revealed that Wu Jitao, the company chairman, had expressed concern over the workshop's safety and demanded the dust collection system be replaced as the systems that were installed were too old to remove dust efficiently. Large concentrations of metal polishing dust can easily cause explosions.

The flammable dust in the workshop was also responsible for the blaze two months prior, but the replacement of the dust extraction system was delayed due to an urgent order that needed to be filled by August 10. This is the same reason that there were 265 workers in the plant on the Saturday morning.

The workshop's dust problem was so severe that one female worker said that after only half a day, the sediment on her desk would be as thick as a coin.

Liu Fuwen, another worker, said that people often felt their chests were tight and had difficulty breathing once they entered the workshop.

"The workshop had none of the necessary equipment to remove dust or monitor its concentration," said Liu. "If government officials came to inspect the factory, management would ask the workers to clean the dust before they arrived."

Song Changxing, a former worker at Zhongrong, said he began vomiting large amounts of blood and suffered from nosebleeds before he went to the hospital, where he discovered he was also suffering from pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease caused by inhaling dust.

"The dust from polishing the metal began piling up as soon as we started to work," said the 44-year-old, who worked for the company from 2004 to 2012. "After a few hours, every worker would be covered in it. Only the workers' teeth remained their original color."

"No one ever taught us any safety regulations, except that we can't smoke or light a fire," Song said. "But some workers also smoked in a bathroom about 5 meters away from the workshop."

Song has been prescribed a number of medications for his pneumoconiosis. Though he has spent about 200,000 yuan ($32,360) on medication, Zhongrong has only agreed to pay less than 80,000 yuan.

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