Fire at Lithium Battery Plant in South Korea Kills at Least 22

0
242
Fire at Lithium Battery Plant in South Korea Kills at Least 22


A fire at a lithium battery factory near Seoul killed 22 workers, most of them migrant workers from China, on Monday. It was one of the deadliest fires in South Korea in years, officials said.

Officials said rescuers were still searching the building in Hwaseong, 28 miles south of Seoul, for a worker reported missing. They said it was unclear whether the worker was in the building at the time the fire broke out.

​Two workers were taken to hospital with serious injuries. Six others suffered minor injuries.

Kim Jin-young, an official with the Hwaseong Fire Department, said 102 people were working at battery maker Aricell’s factory when the fire broke out. The 22 victims included 18 migrants from China and one from Laos, as well as two South Koreans.

They were found dead on the 12,500-square-foot second floor of the factory. There were two unlocked exit stairs on the floor leading outside, but workers appeared to have been overwhelmed by the flames and toxic smoke before they reached them, Mr. Kim said.

Chinese, including ethnic Koreans, are the largest group of migrant workers in South Korea. Of the 523,000 foreigners who visited South Korea on temporary work visas, more than 100,000 came from China, according to government data released late last year.

Separately, hundreds of thousands of Korean Chinese work in South Korea on special longer-term work visas that the country grants to ethnic Koreans living abroad.

After decades of suffering from low birth rates, South Korea has increasingly relied on migrant workers to fill jobs avoided by locals. Many farms and small factories in industrial cities like Hwaseong could not function without such migrant workers.

Workers who fled the fire said it started when a single battery cell caught fire, which Kim said triggered a series of explosions among some of the 35,000 lithium battery cells stored on the factory’s second floor.

Fires can occur in lithium batteries if the inner layers are compressed and a short circuit occurs. The layers can be compressed by a sudden impact, such as a vehicle collision, or by gradual swelling of the batteries with regular use.

Lithium is a metal that can store large amounts of energy in a small space, making it attractive as a battery material. But this also means that there is a lot of energy available that can be converted into heat and even flames in the event of a short circuit. Lithium battery fires are a growing problem in the United States and elsewhere, and fires are an industry-wide problem for battery manufacturers.

Aricell, the owner of the Hwaseong plant, makes batteries that are widely used to power power and other utility networks.

Strong flames, toxic smoke and the threat of further explosions hampered firefighters’ efforts to search for the missing workers on Monday. Television footage of the fire showed large flames and thick clouds of smoke rising from the factory. Footage taken after the fire was extinguished showed the building burned and the roof collapsed.

More than 160 firefighters and 60 fire engines rushed to the scene to contain the fire. President Yoon Suk Yeol called on his government to “mobilize all available human resources and equipment.”

The fire was the deadliest in South Korea since a fire at a construction site southeast of Seoul in 2020 that killed 38 people.

Although South Korea is known for its cutting-edge technology and manufacturing, the country has long been plagued by man-made disasters, including fires.

In 2018, nearly 50 people, most of them elderly patients, died from inhaling toxic smoke in a fire at a hospital that had no sprinkler systems. In 2017, a fire at a gym and public bathing complex killed 29 people. In 2008, 40 workers – including migrant workers – died in a fire at a cold storage facility under construction.



Source link

2024-06-24 16:19:58

www.nytimes.com