Three people sustained extensive burns in an explosion yesterday at the military’s 205th Arsenal weapons production facility in Kaohsiung, with initial reports saying it might have been caused by the ignition of aluminum powder.
The blast occurred at about 9:40am, when the three were preparing propellant materials for work on the Sky Bow II (Tien Kung II), a surface-to-air anti-ballistic missile and anti-aircraft defense system developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.
The injured are a sergeant major surnamed Lu (盧), a sergeant surnamed Wang (王) and an institute staffer surnamed Hung (洪), 205th Arsenal director Lin Cheng-hsiung (林正雄) said.
The plant in Dashu District (大樹) is managed by the Ministry of National Defense’s Armaments Bureau.
Lin said the three had followed standard operating procedures and safety rules on the handling of materials for missile propellant, as each person had donned a mask, an outer covering made of cotton and anti-static shoes.
“They were in the small working room to handle a 53-gallon [200 liters] barrel with raw materials supplied by the institute, taking out the first one — aluminum powder in an anti-static plastic bag,” Lin said.
“It happened so fast. As soon as they opened the barrel, it exploded,” Lin said. “They had not even opened the aluminum powder package.”
Local residents reported hearing a very loud explosion, sending shock waves through the area, with some thinking it was an earthquake.
The three men had passed tests on safety handling and have experience working with such materials, Lin said, adding that a thorough investigation is needed to determine the sequence of events and the cause of the explosion.
Lu, in his 40s, is the most experienced among the three, having worked for more than 15 years on weapons production at different Armaments Bureau sites.
The other two are in their 20s, but have been working at the arsenal for one to two years, Lin said.
Later yesterday, Lin said that Lu sustained third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body, while Wang and Hung had second-degree burns over 60 percent of their bodies.
The three were conscious when they were rushed to hospital, he added.
The Kaohsiung Labor Bureau said the plant has been closed temporarily, pending an investigation and inspection.
An initial investigation found that the factory did not have the required safety equipment or procedures in place to prevent injuries from flammable or explosive materials, as prescribed in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (職業安全衛生法), the Labor Bureau said.
The case will be referred to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office for further investigation, it said, adding that it would provide assistance to the families of the injured workers.
The Armaments Bureau has formed a special task force to investigate the cause of the explosion and help the injured obtain the best possible medical treatment, the ministry said.
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