Fujian Chemical Plant Disaster
Man-made errors can severely hit industries. This is because these occurrences have the potential of affecting the economic and development equilibrium of a nation, as well as the supply of a particular resource to the market. There are various countries like the United States and China, which have faced major industrial disasters, crippling the manufacturing plants. One such country that has faced numerous chemical plant disasters is China. China boasts of major industrial chemical plants that manufacture variety of industrial chemicals and substances. The country ranks among the top suppliers of various products like paraxylene and other polymers after the United States.
Fujian paraxylene (PX) chemical plant is one such manufacturing plant that has faced two disasters within a span of two years. The company, based in the South of Fujian province of China manufacturers paraxylene, a highly flammable liquid containing carcinogenic compounds which is used to produce polyester based products such as films. The product also constitutes the major raw material used for the production of synthetic fibers and rubber products, with other petrochemical products of around 75%, being a product of paraxylene (“Manufacturing in China,” n.d.). The firm has had smooth operations but after the disaster, site information indicate that there were a lot of blasts that occurred inside the facility, with a major fire that caused a lot of smoke which engulfed the major piping infrastructure and the storage tanks. There are also reports that indicate that the blasts caused a slight tremor that was heard within a radius of 50 kilometers.
Fujian PX chemical plant before the disaster was majorly manufacturing paraxylene, a raw material that is used in the manufacturer of polyester products and plastics materials. Built in a less populated area, its construction had earlier sparked a lot of protests by the communities living in the area, due to the toxic nature of paraxylene, the main product being manufactured at the chemical plant and the bad history that such chemical plants have had in the past. This is because paraxylene (PX) has had negative impact on the lives of people and the environment. The occurrence of the disaster triggered a lot of anxiety at the facility and in the community, with news also spreading in the local Chinese social media, and the government coming to address the public, and at the same time establishing a control center to coordinate the efforts of stabilizing the situation and bringing it under control.
There were deaths caused in the facility, injuries and massive relocation of communities living around the chemical plant to other areas that had not been affected by the fumes. The local government agencies also responded swiftly with firefighters battling to reduce the massive flames and smoke that were released into the sky, while soldiers, paramedics with facemasks also assisted in evacuating people to safer areas (“Toxic smoke fears after massive blaze at controversial Chinese chemical plant forces evacuation of hundreds of residents”, 2015 ).
The disaster damaged various manufacturing elements, as well as a nearby gas station and residential building. The main critical areas in the manufacturing process such as distillation chambers, storage tanks and the pipes were damaged. The shaking as a result of the blast also shuttered glasses of a nearby gas station and the nearest residential building. This also resulted to a massive migration by residents, with many using boats to escape to the nearby Island due to the effects and perceived danger of paraxylene leak. The fire lasted for three days having destroyed the plants industrial machines, with fumes noted to have caused heavy downpour of black rain within the surrounding. The environmental protection authorities, meteorological officials and the city’s firefighting department also moved to the scene after the disaster to survey the situation, pending danger and the extent of damage and air pollution as a result of the disaster. The disaster triggered a lot of concerns, inquiries and investigations to establish its cause, with the government monitoring the situation and briefing the country concerning the disaster.
After the disaster, the company initiated efforts to resume operations, with repairs being made on various aspects in the company. The country’s environmental agencies also dispatched its investigators to collect samples of water to ascertain whether water poisoning had occurred after a public outcry perceived to be as a result of contaminated water due to a leaking pipe at the facility. The investigators also conducted an impact analysis to ascertain whether the environment was safe for human life in order to reduce chances of poisoning.
However, after the final reports concerning safety in the environment, most Chinese relocated back to their residences and continued with normal life including various religious practices that occurred in the area. The aftermath of the disaster led to the enactment of stringent environmental laws that were aimed to govern the construction of large petro projects, with each having to be certified by an environmental protection agency before being constructed. This was done to curb construction flaws that have had negative impact in the past within the Chinese petrochemical industry. Despite the stringent laws enacted to prevent the construction of such dangerous industries, there has been an outcry by advocacy groups and individuals resulting to mass protests, as an effort to put the government into accountability regarding the construction of industrial plants. This happened after the Fujian chemical plant explosion that resulted to public distrust concerning the government’s commitment towards establishing rules for advocating for international practices in order to reduce such disasters (“PX Plant Explosion Sparks Echoes of Warning Past”, n.d.).
The protests carried after the disaster were also meant to bring the public into the limelight as a way of establishing oversight roles in which the public could utilize to communicate their issues in order to prevent such disasters in the future. It also sparked a lot of debate among the public, and instilled fear regarding the government’s roles in regulating such dangerous ventures in the name of economic development.
Apart from that, there were efforts initiated to unearth the major causes of the disaster with a striking element connecting the disaster to the design and construction aspects. It is established that the parent company that owned the chemical plant awarded the lowest bidder to design and construct the massive infrastructure. This action compromised the safety requirements and standards that would have been implemented by good design. According to the state administration of work safety, the disaster occurred due to perceived negligence that resulted to poor selection of the plants equipment that also affected how the design of the major plants machinery was done.
It is established that the bidder with the lowest value, was selected to construct the chemical plant used poor welding techniques, which caused a crack on one of the welded joints.
This action led to the leak of the toxic paraxylene near the plant’s boilers. During the plant’s normal operations, the leaking liquid came into contact with the highly flammable substance that caused an explosion resulting to huge billows of fire and smoke. The cause of the disaster was also connected to a poor layout that resulted to bad spacing between the plant’s boilers and the storage tanks.
The small space between the boilers and the tanks caused the chemical to leak onto the storage tanks that came into contact with paraxylene causing it to ignite, catch fire and explode (“Blast in Fujian plant blamed on poor equipment”, 2015). Apart from this, there were instances of noncompliance to regulatory standards concerning the construction of the chemical plant, with the country’s safety laws requiring that such petro-projects are to be monitored and supervised
in order to uphold the industry safety standards.
Although the reports indicate that lack of supervision caused the disaster (“Chinese officials blame chemical plant bosses for explosion”, 2015), it was also established that the management compromised safety standards as a result of non-conformance to the safety methods used for constructing of such industrial facilities. The Fujian chemical plant explosion effect spread to a radius of about 30 miles, due to the heavy blasts which caused a light tremor. This caused the shattering of windows in the nearby communities and other public establishments.
The plant also had heavy concentration of dark fumes which covered the surrounding regions, with fire also established to have engulfed the facility with no fire elements reported to have spread in the surrounding community, due to the efforts which had been put in place by the firefighters to contain the spread. The effects of the explosion were felt by almost 30,000 people in the surrounding area, which also led to the closure of various roads within the surrounding areas, with the flow of piped water being control to monitor for potential contamination. On the other hand, gas and electricity supply to the surrounding areas was also cut to prevent any disaster that would occur in the event that the medium of transmission got damaged.
Apart from several cases of death, intoxication and hospitalization of people, fumes released into the air by the explosion led to deaths of hundreds of fish in the nearby ponds (“Explosion in Fujian paraxylene plant displaces 30,000”, 2015). The excessive smell of paraxylene at the facility affected workers and other people in the nearby areas, due to close contact leading to inhalation of the carcinogenic compound. The high concentration of paraxylene in the surrounding air caused throat, eye and skin irritation, with other instances of nausea, fatigue and dizziness being reported in the area. The emission also reduced the air quality of the surrounding region due to high concentration of fumes in the atmosphere.
The slightly toxic substance is also reported to have caused deaths of thousands of marine algae and invertebrates due to its toxicity in the marine environment. It also had other environmental impacts which led to soil contamination in the surrounding areas where the fumes covered and also had received black rain, apart from which it also led to soil degradation rendering some areas unproductive. The Fujian disaster had negative impact on water catchment areas including fish ponds and rivers. Its effect on human and air were the greatest due to direct contact with fumes being released after the event. Rivers were mainly affected by the black rain, although the impact was minimal.
The disaster caused 14 deaths, mainly consisting of operational workers who succumbed to injuries. There were also a number of workers who had been hospitalized because of intoxication. It is established that the disaster caused massive destruction to the plants manufacturing systems, whereby all storage tanks, boiler equipment and steam pipes were destroyed by fire. There were also extensive damages on the plants roofing structure and fences, which were damaged by the flames that stretched towards the iron sheets and the fencing structure.
The environmental effects were mainly because of the paraxylene leak, emitted smoke and fire. This led to severe intoxication on the atmosphere because of the combination of toxic fumes. The high temperatures and fumes also caused a massive increase in temperature in the surrounding areas, resulting to an ecological distortion of the normal carbon cycle, and airborne creatures such as birds having to move to other areas.
The explosion also resulted to various health hazards in the surrounding area, whereby an environmental clean-up exercise, which consisted of methods to reduce the negative impact of the explosion to the environment, and to contain possible paraxylene leak. The exercise involved hazardous waste disposal, soil remediation, spill containment and sludge removal. Hazardous waste removal at the chemical plant involved the removal of the toxic mixture of solid and liquid water from the fire engines, which had spread at the chemical plant. This was done by collecting the waste using metallic drums and pouring them into standby trucks for disposal, while also conducting mud washouts and wet vacuuming using standby trucks, to reduce damage to the environment. The containment process to reduce paraxylene effects also involved the use of vacuum trucks to collect traces of leakage on the ground, which reduced negative effects of the chemical into the nearby areas.
The explosion of the Fujian chemical plant posed a danger to humans and living creatures, due to the dangerous substances contained in the fumes. These fumes contained paraxylene and other carcinogenic compounds which would result to air and water pollution and resulting in death due to over exposure, as well as lung and nervous system problems.
Paraxylene, a compound of xylene has various effects on the human body. It is established that the fumes can affect the larger population in the Fujian Province of China. This is due to its capability of causing skin irritation because of being into contact with the toxic fumes and spilling liquids.
A larger amount of paraxylene carried by air to various areas is also likely to cause eye, throat and breathing problems, while can cause nervous system problems in humans. It is also established that paraxylene causes diverse health complications, with a recent research trying to establish a link between high concentrations of the toxic chemical to the likelihood of cancer formation.
Paraxylene can also cause severe effects in small children. It is established that higher levels of exposure of paraxylene can cause swelling to the younger children in the surrounding areas, with expectant mothers also being likely to suffer from fetal problems. Apart from these effects, paraxylene can also result to death, as well as chronic and reproductive complications.
The toxic nature of paraxylene also poses great danger to animals such as wildlife in the surrounding areas. Higher levels of concentration and exposure of fumes from the Fujian chemical plant exposes animals to skin irritation and changes in the functioning of major sections in animals such as kidney, liver, heart and the lungs. The toxins are also known to result to abnormal increase in weight, organ failure, loss of hearing and a change in the enzyme activity.
Paraxylene is also known to cause death under high levels of exposure, with studies also linking growth of tumors and cases of cancer because of being exposed to paraxylene, with it also known to kill aquatic life. Apart from this, the toxic chemical exposures also pose danger of mutagenic consequences and long-term effects which may affect plants, humans and living animals.
The Fujian disaster resulted to a disastrous event in the Fujian province, however there were various efforts to conduct a disaster clean-up to restore operations and remove dangerous substances. This involved various activities and industrial machines to drain water, remove wastes and residues at the site. The operation helped in removing damaged iron sheets, fence structures, piles of debris in the compound, damaged storages tanks, pipes, electricity lines and other hazardous chemicals.
The procedure of the clean-up exercise involved removing all laid down fire-extinguishing pipes, and the engines, and draining water inside facility. This involved mounting a series of trash pumps to remove stagnant water that was pumped in during the fire extinguishing process, and creating some space at the facility where small electrical devices were collected. An access road was also created to provide a pathway that would be used during the removal process of debris and other blockages that would hamper the clean-up process. This was also followed by the removal of hanging rooftops which would cause injuries to people involved in the disaster clean-up exercise. The exercise was carried out by industrial machinery to remove heavy wastes, while laborers were also used in order to remove light debris materials at the chemical facility.
There were a set of machinery which were used to remove the pieces of hanging iron sheets from the roof structure, and placing the remains in standby dump trucks, which transported the remains to a dumpsite. On the other hand, the destroyed storage tanks were removed from the facility by a crane that lifted the containers onto standby trailers. The major structures that had been hanging were also removed using cranes to a specified location. After the removal of all the hanging materials such as tanks, steel structures and damaged iron sheets, a stump removal process was put in place to remove stamps from the compound. The debris from the stamps was put on dump tracks.
Upon the removal of wastes and debris at the facility, the completing activity involved clearing and removing all damaged industrial equipment, and the disaster recovery machinery. The equipment that were damaged, including the critical manufacturing parts were placed in a controlled environment to pave way for a feasibility study on the design flaws that led to the disaster. This also paved way for the final removal of the recovery machinery from the disaster site.
The industrial landscape in China has had tremendous impact in the country’s economy, with massive developments in industrial construction of petrochemical facilities. However, these developments have also increased catastrophic disasters, involving petro-firms manufacturing lethal substances with the most affected industrial segment being the petrochemical segments.
The Fujian chemical plant disaster is one of the latest explosions that has occurred in China, within a span of 2 years in the petro-chemical industry. It had a massive impact with negative effects on humans, plant life and aquatic life. The effects of the disaster were notable with massive emission of fumes and balls of fire that had serious impact in the surrounding environment.
While the cause of the disaster was attributed to lack of a proper safety mechanism, the disastrous event also led to speculations, with communities protesting against the government inability to regulate the construction of paraxylene plants. This has led to massive public outcry of the bad situation due to laxity of environmental agencies to enforce stiffer laws in order to reduce the construction of petrochemical industries near communities, whose existence have been of no benefit in the area.
The Fujian chemical explosion is an example of poor environmental management that would have been prevented by proper mechanisms to oversee the location of such a facility in order to reduce poisonous toxic leak which is known to affect the ecosystem.
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