China’s Toxic Shock – Anthony Spaeth
From The TIME Asia Magazine: A huge chemical spill shuts down a city’s water”and another clumsy official cover-up is exposed.
There was never any possibility of covering up the major industrial accident that rocked the Jilin Petrochemical Company last month. The 50-year-old facility, built with Soviet technology, is China’s showcase chemical complex, alma mater to the country’s top chemical engineers. On the afternoon of Nov. 13, pressure built up in a 40-m tower at plant No. 101, where nitric acid and benzene are combined to make nitrobenzene, a highly toxic liquid. Technicians tried to relieve the pressure but failed, and the column exploded, killing five workers and injuring 70 others. Five more explosions followed. The blasts broke windows and produced a massive, orange cloud of smoke.
The accident in China’s frigid, northeastern industrial belt was well covered in the local and national media, as TV news aired dramatic footage. Officials moved fast and evacuated roughly 40,000 residents living near the plant. At midnight, 10 hours after the blasts, the vice party secretary of the plant, which is owned by New York Stock Exchange-listed PetroChina Co., announced that people shouldn’t worry about the orange cloud. “The explosion,” he said, “did not cause toxic air pollution.”