Vietnam halts fireworks commercialization after deadly explosion

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Accident reminiscent of Tet holidays that used to kill dozens when fireworks were legal

The rubble of an explosion at a firework warehouse in the northern province of Phu Tho on October 12. The accident killed 24 people and seriously injured many others. Photo by Hoang Trang

Authorities have halted a proposal for the commercial sale of non-explosive fireworks following an explosion at the country's sole producer that killed 24.

Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper recently quoted Major General Tran Van Ve with the Ministry of Public Security as saying that it is now "impossible" to consider the proposal made by the Ministry of Defense.

An explosion took place at a Z121 company factory firework warehouse in the northern province of Phu Tho on October 12, killing 24 people and seriously injuring many others.

Investigators blamed the blast on heavy rains, saying that water leaked through a warehouse's fiber cement roof and reacted with explosive powder, sparking fires and then explosions.

Owned by the Ministry of Defense, Z121 is the country's sole firework producer. As fireworks are restricted from public use in Vietnam, the company mainly supplies products for public displays during national holidays.

Legal bombs?

The factory has recently announced that it successfully manufactured more than 40 types of non-explosive fireworks similar to sparklers that emit colored flames, sparks, and other effects without explosions or loud noises.

It had planned to mass-produce about 10 types and sell them to the public, starting at VND10,000 (US$0.48) per item, for about 10 years, Nguoi Lao Dong reported.

According to Z121 leaders, they followed designs and technologies transferred from foreign countries, mainly Japan and the US, adding that the products' chemicals were not harmful to humans or the environment.

After receiving the proposed plan from the Ministry of Defense, the government asked the Ministry of Public Security to mull its feasibility and legality, as well as safety concerns.

However, since the proposal was revealed in June, it has drawn controversy in Vietnam, where firecrackers were banned in 1994 for safety and security reasons.

Official figures showed that during Tet (Vietnam's Lunar New Year) that same year, 728 fireworks accidents killed 71 people and injured 765 others.

Proponents of the plan said setting off fireworks is a traditional activity for many communities throughout the world.

Some, like Duong Trung Quoc, a lawmaker who has served three parliamentary terms in a row, have suggested that the government should bring back firecrackers some time in the future, "but only with proper oversight."

On the other hand, those in the opposing camp said the ban should remain in place for safety reasons.

Le Viet Truong, vice chairman of the parliament's National Defense and Security Committee, said he feared that people will develop of a habit of using fireworks which is "very harmful," and will threaten the society's safety.

In fact, elsewhere around the world, even consumer fireworks are considered a great risk to users.

A report released by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission in June showed that six people were killed by professional-grade, homemade or banned firework devices last year.

An estimate of 8,700 consumers were treated in US hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries, including severe eye injuries and the loss of limbs, it said.

Most accidents were related to malfunctioning fireworks or improper use, according to the commission.

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