China paraxylene chemical plant hit by explosion

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Media captionChina Central Television showed footage of the fire which followed the blast

An explosion has ripped through a chemical plant in south-eastern China's Fujian province, sparking a major fire.

The blast occurred on Monday evening at the plant in Zhangzhou. Six people were taken to hospital, say officials.

State news agency Xinhua said 177 fire engines and more than 800 firefighters were sent to the blaze, which is now under control.

The plant produces the chemical paraxylene (PX), in a process many in China feel creates harmful pollution.

PX is a flammable chemical used in polyester and plastics manufacturing.

Construction of PX plants has sparked protests, including violent demonstrations last year in Guangdong province.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The huge fire was contained by Tuesday evening
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The sky was lit up by the flames, which a tremor from the blast was reported 50km (31 miles) away
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The location of PX plants has sparked protests in China

Xinhua said Monday's blast occurred at about 19:00 local time (11:00 GMT) in a pumping station, after leaking oil caught fire.

People living up to 50km (31 miles) away reported feeling a tremor from the explosion, and windows at a petrol station 1km (0.6 miles) from the plant were blown out, Xinhua said. Nearby residents were evacuated.

By Tuesday evening the fire had been contained and environmental teams deployed to monitor any contamination of water and the surrounding area.

Along with the six people taken to hospital, another 13 needed medical treatment.

Monday's incident was the second blast at the Zhangzhou plant in two years.

The plant is operated by Dragon Aromatics, one of the largest independent PX producers in China. It has not yet commented.

Facts: Paraxylene (PX)

  • Basic raw material which when refined is used to make polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polyesters
  • The fibres and films produced are used to make water bottles, other containers, fabrics including clothing and curtains, and x-ray and photographic film
  • Can cause dizziness and nausea if inhaled or ingested. If skin is contacted, it should be rinsed and then washed with soap and water. Can cause issues with the central nervous system

Protests remain rare in China, where it is illegal to demonstrate without a permit, but environmental campaigns are growing in number.

In recent years paraxylene has become a focus of such protests, forcing the delay or cancellation of plants, much to the dismay of the national government, correspondents say.

A protest about a PX plant in Maoming, in southern Guangdong province, turned violent last April, with tear gas fired and several demonstrators injured.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Demonstrations against PX in Maoming last year turned violent

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