Explosion at Chinese auto parts factory kills 68, injures many more

A victim of a factory explosion is wheeled into a hospital in Kunshan, China, on Saturday.
A victim of a factory explosion is wheeled into a hospital in Kunshan, China, on Saturday.
(Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images)

At least 68 people were killed in an early morning explosion at a factory near Shanghai that makes automobile parts for General Motors, once again raising concerns about workplace safety in China.

Within hours of the explosion Saturday in the Kunshan, Jiangsu province, two executives of the Taiwanese company that owns the plant, Zhongrong Metal Products, were detained for questioning.

The factory produces aluminum alloy tire rims. State media said the accident was most likely caused when sparks ignited a highly flammable powder used in polishing the hubs.

The explosion took place at 7:37 a.m. local time Saturday, when the factory was running with about 200 workers on site, according to reports. More than 180 were injured, many with serious burns. Those were being rushed to Shanghai, 45 miles away, to be treated.

Footage from the scene showed charred workers, some sitting and some probably dead, on wooden pallets, as fires raged at the remains of a gutted factory in the background.


The official Xinhua news service quoted a radio reporter saying that victims’ clothes and hair were burnt off, describing one as “dark as charcoal.’’

The explosion is one of the worst industrial accidents in China in recent years. The unusually high death toll and the foreign ownership of the plant is likely to prompt the government to look carefully at whether negligence was involved. A senior Chinese official, state councilor Wang Yong, was being dispatched from Beijing to visit the scene, state media reported.

Zhongrong Metal Products is a supplier to Citic Dicastal Wheel Manufacturing, which, according to its website, is the world’s largest manufacturer of aluminum wheels. It has 450 employees.

As China has grown rapidly so has the scale of industrial accidents, despite the government’s efforts to strengthen safety standards.

In June 2013, a fire at a poultry plant in northeastern China killed at least 119 people. That fire eclipsed the death toll from a 1993 blaze at a toy factory in Shenzhen that left 87 dead, mostly young women.

Survivors of last year’s fire said workers were unable to escape because most exits were locked or blocked.

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