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Poor facilities, lax management and under-qualified workers may all have played a role in the chemical factory blast in Hebei province that killed 25 people and injured 46, according to a preliminary investigation.
The investigation's findings, released by the State Administration of Work Safety on its website on Tuesday afternoon, said that 25 people were killed in the accident and four were still missing, a sharp increase from the 17 casualties announced on Feb 29. There were no updates to the list of injured, which remains at 46 people. On Feb 28, a blast ripped through the Keeper Chemical Factory in Zhaoxian county, Hebei province, razing the three-story building. The explosion also seriously damaged other buildings at the site and shattered the windows of houses up to two kilometers away.
The investigation found that a heat transfer oil spill under one of the three chemical reactors inside the factory caused a fire that heated the ammonium nitrate and guanidine nitrate in the reactor. Both compounds are used to make explosives and explode at high temperatures.
This caused one reactor to explode, triggering a second, massively destructive blast in the plant.
"The blast revealed severe problems with the production processes at the Keeper Chemical factory," according to the investigation statement.
The factory was poorly equipped, had low safety standards, and most procedures require human labor, according to the statement.
Further, the factory altered the raw materials and the heat transfer oil system without assessing the risk.
In addition, the workers were unqualified. Most of them, including the head of the workshop, were middle school graduates without education in chemical production.
"The workers had low qualifications for dealing with emergencies and did not meet the requirements for chemical factory production," the statement said.
Meanwhile, construction work was being conducted on the factory grounds and many construction workers were also injured in the blast.
Yao Hongzhi, a Zhaoxian county publicity official, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that authorities have reached compensation agreements with relatives of those killed and with the injured.
"The amounts could differ person by person according to their insurance and the specific economic background of the family," Yao said. Responsibility for the accident has not yet been determined, Yao added.
Meanwhile, the State safety watchdog has urged authorities to step up safety checks at chemical factories and tighten regulations for chemicals. The authority also urged factories to raise the bar in recruiting employees and improve employee training.
The privately owned Keeper Chemical Factory was established in 2005 and legally certified to operate. It had 351 employees when the blast occurred.
The investigation continues.
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