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2021-02-24 09:40:25

Authorities in eastern China’s Shandong province have named 45 people, including two high-ranking officials, for noncompliance with safety regulations leading to a gold mine explosion that killed at least 10 workers last month.

Yao Xiuxia, the municipal party secretary of Qixia, as well as the city’s mayor, Zhu Tao, have been removed from their posts and are being investigated over a delay in reporting the accident to higher-level officials, according to an investigation report released Tuesday by the provincial government. The report said Yao had believed “the trapped people would likely be rescued.”

The gold mine explosion in the county-level city of Qixia on Jan. 10 is confirmed to have killed 10 miners, while one is still unaccounted-for. Two weeks after the accident, 11 workers who had been trapped underground were brought to the surface in a dramatic rescue mission.

Inspectors from the provincial investigation team determined that the gold mine explosion resulted from hot working conditions and compliance failures in explosives storage. The report concluded that detonators, detonating cords, and explosives lumped together in a subterranean storage area were ignited by an accidental fire caused by oxy-fuel cutting being carried out near the mine’s ventilation shaft, resulting in the explosion that trapped 22 people and caused an estimated 68 million yuan ($10.5 million) in economic losses.

Jia Qiaoyu, the owner of the mine, is currently being investigated by the police for a 30-hour delay in reporting the accident. Under Chinese law, mine accidents must be reported within one hour.

Fourteen others from related companies have also been held responsible for noncompliance practices that may have played a role in the explosion, the report said. Of them, eight are being detained by police, four have been released on bail, and three will be investigated for a “major liability accident.”

In addition, 28 public servants from Qixia and Yantai, the larger city that administers it, have received demerits for inadequate supervision.

Xie Xinghua, an expert on explosive substances and a professor at Anhui University of Science and Technology, said Chinese regulations stipulate that detonators and combustibles should be stored in separate places. He added that the country’s strict rules for the transportation, storage, and use of civil explosives usually means higher costs for companies, prompting some to either neglect the requirements or hire substandard workers.

In 2018, the Ministry of Emergency Management revealed that over the past decade, all accidents related to civil-use explosives have been due to safety and operational violations.

“Supervisory organs should re-evaluate the feasibility of the regulations,” Xie told Sixth Tone. “Those enterprises choose to take risks to reduce costs, but such gray-area operations have even greater hidden dangers.”

In a separate incident on Feb. 17, a fire at a gold mine in the city of Zhaoyuan, just over 40 kilometers from Qixia, killed six people, according to authorities. The blaze is said to have occurred during maintenance, and was followed by a provincial mandate for comprehensive inspections of all non-coal mines.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A rescue operation for miners trapped underground following an explosion near Qixia, Shandong province, Jan. 12, 2021. People Visual)