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March 22, 2011

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Home » Metro » Environment

Repeat offender plant faces punishment for fumes scare

A PETROCHEMICAL plant faces severe punishment for being responsible for a gas leak that affected many parts of the city, environmental watchdogs said yesterday.

A Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau investigation confirmed that a hydrogen sulfide leak on Sunday came from Sinopec Shanghai Gao-qiao Petrochemical Corp in the Pudong New Area.

Many Shanghai residents were concerned by the pungent "rotten eggs" smell, with some even asking if it was linked to radiation leaking from a tsunami-hit Japanese nuclear power station.

The incident was caused by leakage from a valve in sulfur recovery equipment, which has since been repaired.

It later emerged that Gaoqiao Petrochemical had equipment to detect a leak, but this was broken and undergoing repairs at the time.

And only last year the same company was fined for releasing toxic gas in the city.

Gaoqiao Petrochemical said it wasn't aware of any leaks at first because they lasted only a short time and occurred at a height of 120 meters.

Concerned calls

The bureau said it started receiving phone calls from concerned residents at 2pm on Sunday and carried out investigations with the local work safety watchdog.

Many netizens questioned why it took so long for the bureau to locate the source, as it was not until midnight that it confirmed Gaoqiao Petrochemical as the culprit.

Chen Wei, an official with the bureau, said they initially made a mistake regarding the wind direction, which led them to inspect the wrong area, according to the Oriental Morning Post.

It was not until 4pm that officials realized the source should be in the northeastern part of Pudong.

By 6pm, the bureau had Gaoqiao Petrochemical as its prime candidate. But when asked to conduct a check, the company denied there was any leak.

Bureau officials went to the site and at around midnight confirmed two leaks. After analyzing its pressure charts, Gaoqiao Petrochemical admitted there could have been leaks at 11:30am and 5pm.

Equipment broke

The company did have equipment to detect an abnormal density of chemicals - such as hydrogen sulfide - in the air, Chen said.

But this equipment broke down on March 15 and was undergoing an overhaul. Gaoqiao Petrochemical didn't report this to the environmental authorities, Chen said.

The bureau said this incident should not prove harmful, as people only had short-term exposure to fumes.

This is not the first time Gaoqiao Petrochemical has been involved in fumes scares in the city.

It was fined 200,000 yuan (US$30,441) for a gas leak in November last year, when gas containing toxic ethanethiol spread across several districts.

Its punishment this time has yet to be decided.

Some netizens asked why the air quality was still reported "good" on Sunday.

"Sulfide is not included in the air quality monitoring system," officials explained.


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