If you have not had the time to notice, there has been a rash of industrial related accidents occurring in China and the U.S., and one has to wonder whether these individual accidents will lead to further ecological impacts and/or supply chain disruptions. As we have previously commented on Supply Chain Matters, one has to wonder again as to whether basic safety, quality control and routine maintenance processes are breaking down on a systemic scale.

Last week, a major Chinese mining company, Zijin Mining Group Co. finally claimed responsibility for spilling copper laden wastewater from its manufacturing facility located in China’s southeastern Fujian province.  This wastewater penetrated the Ting River and resulted in a massive fish kill, as well as danger to nearby residents along the river.  This toxic spill later flowed into rivers in neighboring Guangdong province. The company initially indicated that high levels of rain was the cause, and denied any responsibility for the spill, but later its board of directors issued an apology that expressed regret for this accident. A statement issued by this board notes: “The Company was overconfident, had a lack of crisis awareness and didn’t properly handle the balance between economic efficiency, ecological benefit and public interest.” A Wall Street Journal article related to the incident noted that China’s top executives rarely accept responsibility for such incidents, and that this statement by the Zijin board was a new and welcomed precedent.

Last week also brought news of China’s largest oil spill as an oil pipeline owned by China National Petroleum Corporation, Asia’s largest oil and gas producer by volume, exploded and caught fire near the northern port city of Dalian, after workers completed unloading a large tanker.  Initial attempts to contain the spill were not productive, and the spill extended to hundreds of square miles closing beaches on the Yellow Sea and causing China’s environmental officials to warn that the spill posed a “severe threat” to sea life and water quality. Dalian is a popular beach getaway. Images from this disaster also paint a grim picture as local workers and fisherman clad in insufficient protection are shown attempting to gather the oil. In the wake of the spill, China’s  Ministry of transportation has expressed the need to tighten inspection guidelines related to ports that handle hazardous materials. According to a New Times report, ports that handle oil, liquefied chemicals and gases are now required to carry out checkups every two years, as well as to come up with emergency response plans and to conduct drills.

Earlier this week, two additional incidents occured. A plastics factory located in a densely populated part of Nanjing exploded and caught fire, killing at least 12 workers and injuring scores of other people. A posting on The Guardian web site provides shocking images in the aftermath of the explosion and fire. The Nanjing No. 4 Plastics Factory was located within a 66 building compound aside an industrial residential area.  The blast filled the emergency rooms of five major downtown hospitals, and death toll is feared to rise. While the exact cause of the explosion is yet to be determined, This incident is raising more questions regarding the widespread practice of placing manufacturing sites within densely populated urban areas. The second reported incident involves another water pollution incident. More than 1000 containers of a chemical utilized in the manufacture of explosives spilled into the Songhua River near the city of Jilin. This chemical, when exposed with water, can cause hydrochloric acid.

Meanwhile on the U.S., in the wake of the unprecedented BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Midwest is facing its own oil spill crisis.  An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners sprung a leak near Marshall Township Michigan. According to the New York Times, over one million gallons of the oil has flowed into a nearby creek and is making its way down to the Kalamazoo River. The leak was in a 30-inch pipeline that carries millions of gallons of oil each day from Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia, Ontario. A state of emergency has been declared in southwest Michigan’s Kalamazoo County, and residents have been warned to avoid going near the creek.  Environmental officials and the governor of Michigan have expressed major concerns about the oil spill reaching Lake Michigan, 60 miles away, where it could result in a ‘grave’ environmental crisis.

One final entry, a Lufthansa MD-11 cargo plane recently crashed while on approach to Riyadh Airport in Saudi Arabia.  The plane originated in Frankfurt and was destined for Saudi Arabia, Sharjah, and eventually Hong Kong. According to a posting appearing on the web site airlineindustryreview.com, this was the eighth total loss involving an MD-11 cargo plane, and an aircraft with a history a troubled aerodynamic design.  Luckily, both the pilot and co-pilot suffered minor injuries.  The identification of the cargo on board has not been disclosed.

One really has to ponder whether all of these accidents are just a result of unpredictable events or a pattern of eroding quality procedures.

What’s your view?  Incidents caused by chance or eroding standards of quality and maintenance?

Bob Ferrari