Fire Kills 119 In China: Did Ammonia Leak Cause Chinese Poultry Plant To Explode?

By Philip Ross on June 3, 2013 4:44 PM EDT

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Rescue workers move the body of a victim from the site of a poultry slaughterhouse in China where a fire killed 119 people on June 3, 2013. Several of the workers are still unaccounted for. (Photo: Reuters)
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Smoke rises from a charred poultry plant in Dehui, Jilin province where a fire that erupted Monday killed 119 people. (Photo: Reuters)

Flames tore through a poultry slaughterhouse in northern China on Monday, killing 119 of the more than 300 workers who were in the building at the time the fire erupted. According to reports, many of the workers couldn't escape the blaze because the poultry plant's exits were locked.

According to ABC News, the gates to the poultry plant near Dehui, a town in Jilin province about 620 miles northeast of Beijing, were barred, trapping many of the workers inside the slaughterhouse during the fire.

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The fire, which killed 119 people and injured dozens more, broke out just before dawn Monday morning. It is believed that the deadly fire started because of a leak in one of the plant's tanks of ammonia, which the poultry industry uses as a coolant, Los Angeles Times reports.

According to the New York State Department of Health, while ammonia, a colorless gas, is not highly flammable on its own, containers of ammonia can easily explode when exposed to heat. 

Many of China's factories are not properly maintained, and safety infrastructures like fire escapes are not given priority. Geoffrey Crothall, the communications director for China Labor Bulletin, told the New York Times that many factory managers or owners keep the doors of their buildings locked for what they perceive as safety reasons.

"I knew the fire door was blocked, so I went back toward another part of the factory," one survivor told Chinese state media. "Everybody was flooding in the same direction in a stampede. I was lucky to crawl out alive."

Dozens of other poultry plant workers were not as fortunate. For many of the fire's 119 victims, escape was hampered by the plant's narrow hallways and "complicated interior." The fire is being dubbed one of China's worst industrial disasters in recent years. Los Angeles Times reports that the death toll of the poultry plant fire is the highest since that of China's Sept. 2008 mining cave-in that claimed the lives of 281 people.

Disasters like Monday's fire, which killed 119 people in northeastern China, are indicative, some say, of the Chinese government's pattern of putting economic growth ahead of workers' safety.

According to the New York Times, while the rate of deaths per 100,000 workers in China's industry and mining businesses fell by 13 percent in 2012 from the previous year, Chinese factories and mines are still plagued by work hazards during China's economic growth spurt.

Also, the government withholds detailed statistics regarding industrial accidents.

Read more from iScience Times:

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