04/18/2007, 00.00
ChINA
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Molten steel kill 32 workers, industrial accidents multiply

Steel workers die as 30 tonnes of liquid steel spills over them. Just in the last three days hundreds of workers are killed and injured. A chemical plant releases a toxic cloud but no one warns the population. At least 47 coal miners are trapped in three different mines as a result of flooding, collapse and explosions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A piece of heavy equipment at a steel plant in Tieling (Liaoning) broke off while transporting molten steel, killing at least 32 workers and injuring two others on Wednesday. The accident occurred at the Qinghe Special Steel Corp when a steel ladle “suddenly dropped and 30 tonnes of the liquid spilled out into a workshop five meters (16 feet) away,” according to a statement on the website of the State Administration of Work Safety. All 32 workers in the room were killed—the two ladle operators were injured.

The official Xinhua News Agency said earlier that the ladle fell on workers below but it wasn't clear if they were crushed or burnt. Given the high temperatures involved rescuers had to wait before they could reach the victims.

Industrial accidents like this one are not uncommon in China; in many cases they also affect people living around industrial plants. For instance, a plant producing triple super phosphate in Xiaozhaiba (Guizhou) leaked "a huge amount" of sulphur dioxide on Monday morning. Exposure to this colourless gas can lead to death in severe cases. However, the alarm was not raised immediately and the public was left unawares for some time. Making matter worse, the gas could not disperse quickly because of a heavy fog at the time.

Five teachers and about 135 students from two primary schools and a middle school later reported respiratory problems. And more than 300 villagers were later hospitalised in Xifeng County with similar symptoms and complaints.

Also on Monday 47 coal miners were trapped in three mines. In the Changcheng mine in Zhuzhou (Hunan), 12 people were trapped after the pit was flooded. In Baofeng (Henan) an explosion trapped 33 miners. Two other men were trapped when the illegal mine in which they were working collapsed in the city of Jixi (Heilongjiang).

In the first three months of 2007, 661 miners died in industrial accidents according to official sources.

In 2005 127,000 people died in a variety of industrial accidents across China, but many experts believe the real figure to be much higher.

Last January, nearly 3,500 people in the south-western city of Chongqing were evacuated after a mixture of methane and sulphurated hydrogen leaked from an abandoned gas well.

In response to the situation Chinese authorities have announced tighter controls. In 2006 the government pledged US$ 60 billion over the following five years to reduce the high death toll in coal mines and other dangerous workplaces. However, it does not appear to have made much difference yet. (PB)

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