At least 22 dead & more injured in blast outside northern China chemical plant

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An explosion outside a chemical plant in north-eastern China has killed at least 22 people, injured at least 22 more, and destroyed scores of vehicles.

A vehicle carrying chemicals exploded while waiting to enter a chemical plant, initial reports suggest.

The blast occurred at 00:41 local time (16:41 GMT) in Zhangjiakou, a city some 200km (124 miles) northwest of Beijing. Local Wechat reports say some drivers are resting or taking a nap in their vehicles waiting when the blast came onto them.

An official news release said the blast occurred just after midnight at a loading dock next to the plant operated by the Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry Co. Ltd.

The city of Zhangjiakou is to play host to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

In a statement, the Zhangjiakou city government said 38 trucks and 12 passenger cars were destroyed by fire.

“We request that citizens do not go to the site to watch in order to avoid disrupting recovery efforts,” the statement said.

An official at the city government propaganda department, who gave only his surname, Gao, said the accident’s cause was still under investigation and no other information could be provided.

Investigators suspect a truck carrying the highly flammable compound ethane for use by a separate nearby chemical factory exploded as it was passing the Shenghua plant, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The flames then spread to other trucks but not to the Shenghua complex itself, which continued to operate as normal, the report said.

Footage from state broadcaster China Central Television showed row after row of charred tanker trucks with smoke still rising from some of them, hours after the explosion occurred.

On its website, Hebei Shenghua described itself as a “backbone enterprise of the city, and for the domestic chlor-alkali industry and one of the Top 500 chemical enterprises in the country.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the chlor-alkali electrolysis process is used mainly to manufacture chlorine, along with hydrogen and sodium hydroxide solution.

Chlorine is one of the most commonly produced chemicals, widely used in the textile and paper industries, as well as for general cleaning and disinfecting and as a raw material for synthetic organic chemistry. It is also an essential component of construction materials, solvents and insecticides.

Other products made at the plant include PVC resins, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, oxygen, chlorine, dissolved acetylene, coated kettle agent, water treatment chemicals and new building materials, according to the company website.

The company is a subsidiary of state-owned China National Chemical Corporation, China’s largest chemical company, listed 167th on the Fortune Global 500 list.

AP/Time/BBC

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