Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jilin Connell: injury upon injury

Employees injured at work not only have their physical or psychological injuries to nurse; more often then not, they are subjected to the slander that they either caused the injury through their own negligence, or that the injury is psychosomatic, something they themselves have dreamed up. Victims of repetitive strain injury (RSI) were slandered in this way.

The most recent victims of such a slander are a group several thousand strong in an industrial zone in Jilin city, Jilin Province, China.

They were all either employees of the Jilin Chemical Fibre Company or nearby residents. All claimed that chemical discharges from a neighbouring firm, Jilin Connell Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. (JCCI) were to blame.

The Connell plant produces aniline, a highly-acrid poison used mainly in the manufacture of polyurethane. The capacity of the plant increased from 45,000 tonnes per annum to 66,000 t/a in the early 2000s, but was recently expanded to a massive 300,000 t/a. The aniline unit uses a nitrobenzene hydro-reduction process.

(Quite apart from the safety issues – or maybe they are linked after all - is a jockeying for position within the aniline industry in China which is facing a crisis of overproduction. Ironically, just as the poisoning scandal has erupted, a May 20-22 China Benzene-Aniline-MDI Industry Chain Conference is to take place in Beijing with discussion topics including Analysis of Benzene-Aniline-MDI industry chain development during economic crisis and How to rationally deal with "Aniline industry excess capacity". A “Background to the Summit” points out: “With JiLin ConNell Chemicals’ aniline device starting again soon, the situation of the domestic aniline excess capacity will be more serious.”)

Readily available website information identifies aniline as “toxic by inhalation of the vapour, absorption through the skin or swallowing. It causes headache, drowsiness, cyanosis, and mental confusion, and, in severe cases, can cause convulsions. Prolonged exposure to the vapour or slight skin exposure over a period of time affects the nervous system and the blood, causing tiredness, loss of appetite, headache, and dizziness”.

Around 450 of more than 900 workers who had sought medical attention from April 23, when the first symptoms were reported, remained in hospital by May 15, more than 3 weeks after complaints including headaches, numbness, and partial paralysis surfaced.

The Connell plant was closed on April 30. An investigative team was sent by the Health Ministry’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and concluded that releases of Connell plant gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, aniline and benzene were within state limits. They also noted that none of the Connell workers had reported symptoms. In a report released on May 14, the health bureaucrats blamed “mass hysteria”.

Zhang Shoulin, who led the team, announced at a press conference organised by the city government that the “uncomfortable reactions” among workers were not caused by poisonous chemicals but rather by a socio-psychological phenomenon.

However, workers insisted that they were not imagining their symptoms.

“I cannot accept this conclusion,” said Wang Jinping, a worker of the Chemical Fibre factory. “Why are there so many sick people if there is no pollution?”

The issue was resolved following the intervention of the State Administration of Work Safety Supervision which released its own statement on May 18.

The work safety regulator confirmed that an accidental poison gas leak occurred in April at the Connell plant. Affected workers now have access to free medical treatment.

One wonders how, in a country in which the working class is meant to be exercising leadership, a bunch of Health Department bureaucrats can be so derelict in their duties, so totally dismissive of what workers themselves are saying, as to line up behind someone like the deputy manager of Connell, Wang Daxiang whose attitude was “We never discharged poisonous gases”.

In these circumstances, how can we not recall Chairman Mao’s scathing observation, in 1965, that “The Ministry of Public Health is not a Ministry of Public Health for the people, so why not change its name to the Ministry of Urban Health, the Ministry of Gentlemen’s Health, or even to Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health?”

Extreme vigilance is required by the working class in China to defend the hard-won gains of the periods of revolution and construction, and to curb the arrogance and power of new elites who treat the workers with the same arrogance and contempt as do bourgeois elements everywhere.

(Sourced from Caijing Magazine, People’s Daily and various internet resources).

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