The company responsible for a chemical spill that left dozens ill in east China "deliberately concealed" the extent of the leak, which was 10 times worse than reported, authorities said.
The spill in Fujian province happened in the early hours of November 4 when a tube transferring the chemicals from a wharf to a tanker broke, spilling 69.1 tonnes of C9 aromatics into the sea.
Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Company, the firm responsible for the incident, had previously reported just 6.97 tonnes. "From the start, Donggang Petrochemical deliberately concealed, maliciously colluded, and forged evidence," said a statement released by the local Quanzhou city government on Sunday.
According to local authorities, mid-level and higher-up employees were told to keep the real volume of the chemical spill secret at a meeting following the incident in order to "escape" the legal consequences.
Later, the company under-reported the spill and blamed the hose rupture on old and damaged parts. The local government also accused the petrochemical firm of disorderly management and weak safety protocols.
So far, authorities have arrested seven people over the incident. Three are employees of the Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Company, which operates the wharf, and four are crew members of the tanker involved in the leak.
Earlier this month, residents near the coast who had come into contact with the C9 reported dizziness, nausea, and breathing difficulties. C9 is typically used to produce adhesives, printing ink and paint, and is toxic.
A total of 69 residents were hospitalised after the leak, though all are now in "good condition", the state-run China Daily reported Monday. It is the latest alleged corporate cover-up to make waves in China.
In October, Chinese authorities slapped penalties totalling a whopping USD 1.3 billion on a pharmaceutical company that fabricated records for its rabies vaccines. Though authorities said the suspect vaccines did not enter the market, the case provoked outrage from consumers fed up with recurring product-safety scandals, particularly in the drug sector.
In 2008, China was hit with one of its most explosive health scandals when 300,000 children fell ill and six were killed by milk powder laced with the chemical melamine to give the appearance of higher protein levels.
Melamine is usually used to make plastic.