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PX plant blast stokes fresh public concern

The fire was put out quickly, but wreaked havoc inside. Photo: SCMP

An explosion ripped through a soon-to-be-opened PX project Tuesday in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, renewing public concerns over the safety of paraxylene (PX) projects.

The 4.30 am explosion occurred after hydrogen leaked from a pipeline's welding seam during a pressure test at the plant, which is owned by Dragon Aromatics (Zhangzhou), the city government said.

No dead or injured have been reported and there is no leakage of the chemical, according to the local government .

They also confirmed that the fire was put out immediately and no air or water pollution was detected.

Local media reported that the 13.8 billion yuan (HK$17.3 billion) project began trial production of PX last month. The plant is projected to make 800,000 tonnes of the chemical, which is commonly used for making polyester.

A Xingzai village resident, who lives less than one kilometre from the plant, said the concussive force of the explosion shattered windows and cracked walls and ceilings at her newly built home.

The PX project was originally planned for the densely populated coastal city of Xiamen, in Fujian, but massive protests by local residents fearing potential health hazards forced government to relocate the project to a less-populated area in Zhangzhou.

The blast coincided with a report in yesterday's People's Daily, saying PX projects had a relatively good safety record on the mainland and elsewhere.

"There were no major safety accidents reported since 1985, when the country's first PX plant was put into production," Li Junfa, chief engineer at China National Petroleum and Chemical Planning Institute, was quoted as saying. He said more than 10 PX production facilities were currently functioning properly around the country.

The newspaper ran a full-page report last month ensuring its readers PX was "no more harmful than coffee", in a bid to defuse public fear of the industry, following a string of protests against PX projects in cities including Chengdu and Kunming earlier this year.

Li Bo , a senior adviser with the environmental advocacy group Friends of Nature, said the blast proved that safety and environmental fears were "not ungrounded".

"It comes as a wake-up call for authorities that simply bragging about the industry's safety could not defuse public concerns, but enhanced supervision and transparency can," Li Bo said. "This accident also sheds some light on the construction-quality problems of petrochemical projects."

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