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September 2, 2013

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Pipeline cap blamed for deadly leak of ammonia

A CAP that became detached from a pipe was to blame for a liquid ammonia leak in a refrigeration plant which killed 15 people and injured 25 others on Saturday morning, Shanghai authorities said yesterday.

The city’s health commission said the 25 injured were all in a stable condition after treatment. Five of them had been reported to be in a critical condition after being rescued.

An initial investigation showed that a cap on the liquid ammonia pipeline system had fallen apart, resulting in the leak which affected workers in a production workshop at Shanghai Weng’s Cold Storage Industrial Co Ltd. The workers suffered internal burns after inhaling the highly corrosive fumes. Some of those who died had severe facial burns.

Survivors told reporters they had never received any safety training, including evacuation procedures, The Beijing Times reported. Most of the workers were from Lianyungang City in neighboring Jiangsu Province and were recruited about two weeks ago, the paper said.

Several of them told reporters their job was to pack shrimps. They said they were unaware the plant used ammonia as a coolant and had no knowledge of liquid ammonia.

Many victims were sleeping when the leak occurred. They inhaled ammonia as they tried to escape as the dormitory and cold storage were in the same building.  “I used to think it was convenient to live and work in the same building. Now, I know it is not safe,” survivor Xu Lan told The Beijing Evening News.

One worker told The Beijing Times she worked 16 hours a day and sometimes even longer. Workers had to work extra hours when there was a large number of shrimps that needed packing and summer was the peak production season.

The company has more than 200 workers. Most victims were temporary staff said to earn 9.5 yuan (US$1.55) an hour. Since April 1, Shanghai’s minimum hourly wage has been 14 yuan.

Officials said a team looking into the case included experts from the work safety administration, the quality and technical supervision bureau, the public security bureau, the city’s procuratorate and the Baoshan District government.

It has looked into the plant’s construction, equipment installation and daily supervision procedures. It will also ask professional institutes to carry out technical evaluation on related equipment and facilities.

The city’s environmental protection bureau said the leak had not affected the surrounding environment and the air quality nearby was normal. The work safety administration has launched checks of all production and business units in the city that use liquid ammonia.

The cold storage company specializes in imports and exports, purchasing, processing, cold storage, sales and international trade in seafood.



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