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Dust explosion at GM supply plant in China kills 68, injures 200

People light candles and pray for victims in a factory blast on August 2, 2014 in Kunshan, China
People light candles and pray for victims in a factory blast on August 2, 2014 in Kunshan, China
Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

68 people were killed and another 200 severely injured (mostly with burns) during a dust explosion at a plant in Jusgan, Jiangsu Province, China used to manufacture parts for General Motors. The facility, located about 600 miles southeast of Beijing, has been operated by Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Company, and has specialized in electroplating aluminum alloy wheel hubs for GM supplier Citic Discastal Wheel Manufacturing (and other companies) since 1998. According to the company website, “it is the world’s largest manufacturer of aluminum wheels, and had 450 employees.

According to a news report by state broadcast agency CCTV, the explosion happened around 7:37 am in a workshop, and was most likely caused when particles of dust or powered aluminum floating in the air came into contact with a spark, possibly emitted by an “overheated surface or electrical discharge from the machinery,” resulting in rapid combustion.

On air footage of the disaster (shot by local residents in Kushan) showed large plumes of thick black smoke rising from the factory, as well as some “charred” survivors with their hair and clothes burned off sitting on wooden cargo platforms waiting to be taken to hospitals in Kushan and neighboring Suzhou. In addition, China’s official media agency Xinhua News reported that burn specialists from Shanghai were flown in to help care for the injured workers.

The country is notorious for its lax enforcement of safety regulations, many of which are consistently ignored. However, due to the high death toll and the fact that the plant is foreign-owned, the Chinese government has dispatched state councilor Wang Yong to investigate whether the disaster was the result of negligence.This is the worst industrial accident to occur in China since a poultry factory fire killed 119 in June 2013 after workers became trapped by blocked or locked exits.