News / Asia

Analysts: China's Industrial Disasters Driven by Weak Enforcement

China in recent weeks has suffered a series of industrial disasters, including one of the largest oil spills in its history.  Authorities have taken measures, some of them harsh, to prevent accidents.  But analysts say safety standards and punishments for those who flout them are too weak.

In the port city of Dalian, China is still cleaning up an oil spill after an explosion last month. Workers, after off-loading oil from a tanker ship, used a cleaning agent inappropriately, igniting fuel and sending thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the bay.

Chinese authorities quickly mobilized volunteers to clean up what they say was about 1,500 tons of oil.  Last week they declared the clean-up a victory that kept the slick from spreading to international waters.

Inaccurate estimates

But an American expert visited the area last week and says the official estimate is ridiculously low and that oil has likely spread hundreds of kilometers, perhaps as far as North Korea.

Rick Steiner, an independent marine conservation consultant, estimates at least 60,000 tons of oil spilled into the sea.

"The government and the industry habitually understate the size of the spill and the impacts and they overstate the effectiveness of their response," Steiner said. "That happened in Alaska, that's happened in the Gulf of Mexico right now, that happens in all oil spills.  But, it's been particularly severe here and I think people deserve to know what the government and what the responsible parties here know."

He said the explosion emptied a tanker filled with 90,000 tons of oil.  Some of it burned, but workers recovered thousands of barrels of more oil than officials say was spilled. Although Chinese authorities say most of the spill has been cleaned up, Steiner estimates that more than half the oil is still in the sea.

Poor safety standards

And, he said health and safety standards for the thousands of workers and fishermen cleaning up the spill were ignored. Those collecting spilled oil, for a reward of about $40 a barrel, lacked protective gear and many used their bare hands to scoop up the crude.

"They were coated in oil," said Steiner.  "This is very toxic stuff.  It absorbs through the skin.  If you breathe the vapors you're inhaling it.  And, I saw at least one fisherman that was just almost catatonic.  He was unresponsive and listless and almost in some sort of a stupor from the toxic shock of chemical exposure, who was rushed off to the hospital." Steiner said he heard many others were in the same condition.

China's handling of the spill highlights the challenges in meeting safety standards and demand for energy to fuel economic growth. Most of its energy from coal and the country has some of the most dangerous mines in the world, claiming close to 3,000 lives a year.

In the past month alone, more than 100 miners have died in floods, gas leaks or explosions.

Authorities have been cracking down on coal mine safety problems, and say they achieved a slight drop in the death toll.

Corruption thwarts safety efforts

However, Robin Munro, deputy director of China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong, questions government figures.  He says campaigns to improve safety are thwarted by corrupt coal mine owners who pay off safety inspectors and are protected by local officials.

"It's not that the industry is unprofitable and cannot afford to make the necessary safety provisions.  It's not that at all.  Huge fortunes are made in the coal industry in China," Munro said. "It is simply that the coal mine owners are not held criminally responsible when they violate the law in this way."

He adds only a handful of coal mine owners are criminally prosecuted despite hundreds of fatal accidents every year.

In a sign of how widespread the problem is, Premier Wen Jiabao in July ordered mine bosses to work in the pits alongside workers.  The idea was that supervisors would better enforce safety standards if they had to share the same risks as ordinary miners. But state media reports say in a recent accident the mine's managers were the only survivors, indicating the orders are being ignored.  

Toxic leaks


There are other problems.  A chemical leak last month from a gold and copper mine in southern China into a nearby river killed 2,000 tons of fish.  

The company, China's largest gold producer, initially blamed flood waters for the leak.  But an investigation revealed waste-water discharges were too high and flowed from an illegal drain.

Local officials, whose promotions depend on local economic growth, ignore or lightly punish safety violators, says Alex Wang with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Since the late 1970s, China has been passing a series of environmental laws, regulations, and they've been gradually strengthening their environmental enforcement framework.  But, I think overall it's well known that there is still a lot of implementation problems in the system," said Wang. "So, I think the real question is, right now with this series of accidents, is this the point where there will finally be a wake-up call."

In other recent incidents, floods last month washed thousands of barrels of toxic chemicals, oil, resin, and fertilizer into two Chinese rivers. Authorities say they recovered almost all the barrels, that there was very little leakage, and that water quality was not affected.

China's state media says police have arrested those responsible for improperly storing the drums, but it is not clear what possible punishment they face.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid