News World China plant blast: 69 dead

China plant blast: 69 dead

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The death toll from an explosion at a Taiwan-invested car parts factory in China has reached 69.

The blast on Saturday in a wheel hub polishing workshop at the Zhongrong Metal Products Co. in Kunshan, near Shanghai, also left nearly 200 injured, state television said, many with severe burns.

The force of the explosion caused metal siding on the factory building to peel back, AFP journalists saw, while state television showed broken machinery and smashed windows.

Kunshan’s mayor Lu Jun on Saturday classified the incident as a “serious” industrial accident which a preliminary investigation showed was caused by the ignition of powder or dust from the production process.

Authorities have detained two company officials, the official Xinhua news agency said, but did not name them.

The firm makes parts for car companies including US giant General Motors (GM).

China has a dismal industrial safety record as some owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.

US-based China Labour Watch, a workers’ rights group, said proper measures could have prevented the accident.

“Safety measures like ventilation systems should have prevented such accumulation of dust particles. This tragedy is a result of lax safety standards in the workplace,” it said in a statement.

Dust suspended in the air in the right concentration can cause explosions, according to safety experts, with even materials that do not normally burn in larger pieces becoming explosive in certain conditions.

Kunshan, in the eastern province of Jiangsu and known as a centre for Taiwanese investment in China, was unable to handle the number of burn victims with more than 130 of them sent to hospitals in surrounding areas including Shanghai.

Zhongrong was a contractor for a global supplier of GM, Dicastal, though the US company did not have direct contact with it, GM said in a statement provided to AFP on Sunday.