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China Factory Explosion That’s Killed 78 Adds to Industrial Sector’s Dark History of Deadly Accidents

A blast at a Tianjiayi Chemical factory in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on March 21 killed 78 people. Early reports put the death toll at just six individuals with a further 90 people seriously injured, a third of whom were said to be in a “critical condition.” Local media reports 640 people have been treated for injuries from the incident in total.

The explosion occurred around 3 p.m. local time on Thursday in Yancheng. The blast was predicated by a fire in a factory owned by the Tianjiayi Chemical Company, which manufactures pesticides. The fire reportedly spread to neighboring factories but the exact cause of the blast—and of the fire—is still being investigated.

China’s Earthquake Administration said it registered a magnitude 2.2 earthquake in Jiangsu province, which it suspects was caused by the explosion. Local media reports shockwaves from the blast shattered the windows of a factory over three kilometers away from the epicenter.

China’s industrial sector is frequented by high casualty accidents. At least 23 people were killed by explosions at a chemical manufacturing plant in Hebei province last November; earlier in July, an explosion at a chemical plant in southwest Sichuan province killed 19 people; and in 2015 an explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port of Tianjin, a city that borders Beijing, left over 160 people dead.

Chemical Plant Pesticide Production Explods In Jiangsu, China
Smoke pours from the Tianjiayi Chemical Plant after the blast on Thursday. Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The accident in Tianjin provoked the most outrage, not only due to the loss of life and the cost of the damage—insurers paid out an estimated $1.1 billion—but because the government was accused of attempting to downplay the incident. Social media posts on the explosion in Tianjin were censored and nearby residents were reportedly pressed into accepting quick settlement payments.

President Xi Jinping is well aware of the unsettling precedent. Speaking from Italy, where he arrived late on Thursday for a state visit, he urged authorities to prevent such incidents from happening in the future, adding, “There have recently been a series of major accidents, and all places and relevant departments must fully learn the lessons from these.”

Early Friday morning, after the flames at the factory had been brought under control, provincial authorities announced they will launch investigations into all chemical plants and storage facilities and immediately shut down any found in violation of safety regulations.

However, Tianjiayi, the company at the center of yesterday’s explosion, has been punished several times in the past for safety violations yet continued to operate.