In 1997, widespread protests against a paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen, Fujian forced officials to change their plans and launched the NIMBY movement in China. The plant was moved to inland Zhangzhou, and was completed and opened earlier this year. The relocation of the plant to a less-densely populated area was seen as a victory for the protesters. But an explosion and fire at the plant today, due to a faulty hydrogen pipe, has raised new concerns about the safety of large-scale industrial projects. According to reports, the fire has been brought under control and there have been no casualties. From South China Morning Post:
Local witnesses said they heard a loud blast at around 4.30am and saw thick smoke coming from the plant and flames rising high into the air.
A nearby villager wrote on Sina Weibo that the blast had shattered window panes in her home and damaged a wall.
The 13.8 billion yuan project, which produces a chemical commonly known as PX that is essential in the manufacture of polyester, launched a trial production in June. The plant has an annual capacity of 800,000 tonnes. [Source]
Xinhua reported on the explosion but gave few details:
A Zhangpu county government spokesman said an initial investigation found that a cracked hydrogen pipeline triggered the fire during a pressure test.
He said the blast did not heavily damage the plant, nor has it resulted in any chemical leaks. [Source]
Following recent protests against PX plants in Kunming and Chengdu, People’s Daily declared that PX is “no more harmful than coffee.” While PX was not directly the cause of today’s blast, it is likely to reignite concerns about industrial safety in China and make residents more hesitant to allow large projects to be built in their cities. From the Wall Street Journal:
Details are sketchy about blast at the Tenglong Aromatic PX (Zhangzhou) Ltd. According to an official government statement and unofficial accounts on the Internet, a pipeline blew up but no one was injured.
For a plant so steeped in history, the explosion is likely to resonate further than the glass the government said shattered in a nearby village.
The incident follows increased reassurance in China’s state-run media that it is safe to produce the chemical made at the plant, a plastics input called paraxylene, or PX. On the same day as the blast, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper, the People’s Daily, quoted an oil an industry executive as saying, “For large projects like PX, they have been running for decades without big work safety accidents anywhere.” [Source]
AP quotes an environmental activist who raises concerns about the explosion:
PX plants around the country have become a hot-button issue, especially among China’s growing middle class.
“The government does not have the sincerity to handle such things properly. They should draw a lesson from this accident in Zhangzhou,” said Li Jiarui, a food researcher who protested against a PX factory in Kunming city in southwest Yunnan in May. [Source]
Read more about recent popular protests against PX plants in Dalian, Kunming and Chengdu.