Fire at South Korea Battery Factory Kills 23 Workers

A fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea has resulted in serious casualties, making it one of the most devastating fires in recent years.

On June 24 at 10 a.m., a fire broke out at Aricell, a South Korean lithium battery manufacturer in Hwaseong City. The blaze raged for five hours. According to the latest reports, 23 people were confirmed dead, most of them female Chinese migrant workers. Additionally, eight people were injured and one person is missing.

The fire originated on the second floor of a building where more than 35,000 lithium batteries were stored. Lithium battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish using conventional firefighting methods. As a result, the fire spread rapidly, causing numerous explosions and hindering firefighters’ efforts.

When lithium batteries burn, they emit large amounts of toxic gas. Officials have preliminarily determined that inhalation of these gases likely caused the rapid fatalities among the employees. Most of the victims were found on the second floor where the fire initially started.

An analysis of on-site surveillance footage and other preliminary investigations revealed that the entire space was filled with smoke within 15 seconds after white smoke was first seen. Fire extinguishers used by employees at the scene were unable to contain the blaze.

South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul visited the scene on the night of the incident, offering condolences to the victims and their families. He also called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident.

Aricell was established in 2020 as a joint venture between SK Innovation and SK IE Technology to produce lithium batteries for sensors and radio communication equipment. It is a subsidiary of the South Korean listed company S-Connect. Following the fire, S-Connect’s Korean-listed shares closed down 22.51 percent.

SK Innovation and SK IE Technology are subsidiaries of SK Group, South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate. On June 25, SK Group issued a statement asserting that Aricell has no direct connection with SK Group.

Migrant Chinese Workers

Over the past few decades, many people from northeastern China have traveled to South Korea for work, often through intermediary agencies, attracted by relatively higher wages. This trend is especially pronounced among ethnic Koreans who speak the language and find employment more easily. These workers typically take on labor-intensive, low-paying jobs that are less desirable to South Koreans.

Mr. Ding, a young man of Korean ethnicity from Yanbian, China, told The Epoch Times that most people who go to South Korea to work are introduced by intermediaries, who help them obtain job opportunities by applying for non-professional employment E-9 visas.

“Usually you have to pay a small fee to the intermediary agent,” Mr. Ding said. “Compared to the domestic market, you can get better and reasonable compensation if you have a work-related problem in South Korea. Unlike in China, where serious accidents can be covered up, it is difficult for family members to defend their rights.”

Lithium Battery Risks

The issue of battery safety for new energy vehicles has become more prominent in recent years.

On April 8, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that SK Battery America would be fined $77,200 for a lithium-ion battery fire in October 2023 that caused permanent respiratory injuries to workers in Georgia. SK Battery America was also cited for five serious safety violations, such as “exposing workers to inhalation hazards, including hydrofluoric acid vapors produced in lithium battery fires, by failing to establish a complete emergency response plan.”

In China, the problem of fires caused by electric vehicles is even more serious, but the cases are seldom publicized.

On Feb. 23, an electric car caused a fire in a high-rise residential building in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. At least 15 people died and 44 were injured.

In 2023, China’s National Fire and Rescue Service received 21,000 reports of e-bike fires. Official statistics show that faulty batteries are a major cause of e-bike fires.


Read More

Leave a Reply