Explosion at tire-rim factory in China kills 68

BEIJING – At least 68 people were killed in an early morning explosion at a factory near Shanghai that makes automobile parts for General Motors.

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.

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.

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.

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