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Two explosions heard 'round the world and a little closer to home

In the past two weeks, two warehouse sites in China, both storing chemicals, have exploded. More than 120 people, including 67 firefighters, were killed, and hundreds were injured. While the government investigates the blasts, authorities are also dealing with accusations of corruption and graft. In both cases, it seems, the warehouses violated safety regulations: They were too close to residential areas, in one case too close by half.

A week before the first set of explosions in China, U.S. investigators arrived at an aluminum plant a few miles south of the Illinois border to determine the cause of explosions there. Workers and others at the site were luckier than their Chinese counterparts: 33 people were injured, and none of the injuries was life-threatening.

According to an Occupational Health and Safety Administration representative, the blasts were likely the result of molten aluminum coming into contact with water and were powerful enough to destroy one building at the plant.

OSHA's investigators have not determined if any safety violations contributed to the explosions or the workers' injuries. Nor has the agency completed its investigation into a June 30 accident at the same plant. In that case, a worker suffered second- and third-degree burns.

The situation in China has the entire nation on edge. Residents near those facilities are concerned about their safety, and residents near similar facilities are concerned that these two incidents are just the beginning of a national crisis. The world is watching as the investigations continue, but no one is guessing how long they will take.

The blasts at the aluminum plant may not have triggered statewide or nationwide suspicions of wrongdoing, but the incident must have been disconcerting for people living and working in the surrounding area. They will have to look to the company or to local authorities for information, though. According to OSHA's Field Operations Manual, the agency will not issue updates during the course of the investigation. Everyone will have to wait for the final report, and that could take some time.


Insurance Journal, "OSHA: 33 Injured in Missouri Aluminum Plant Explosion," Aug. 6, 2015

Christian Science Monitor, "Another factory explosion rocks China. Another case of corruption exposed?" Michelle Toh, Aug. 22, 2015

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