A question was asked on PML about why shells are no longer being shipped from China with igniters attached, or even in the same box.
By Charles P. Weeth
It was CIQ that established the prohibition on igniters, not the carriers as has been suggested. Before that, the Foshan Municipal Government of Guangdong stopped all fireworks shipments through Sanshui Port as a result of the explosions at the Sanshui warehouse. Then the carriers restricted shipments of 1.3G.
The International Fireworks Association got involved because they could see where things were headed. When the major employers with the $100+ million factories that make TVs, computers, etc. in Guangzhou get nervous, the government pays attention.
A number of Chinese local government and port authorities apparently insisted that new standards were needed because they were getting questions from shippers and carriers. Also remember there was significant damage to the village near this facility – even though it was behind a small hill! （See http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/200802/17/content_7619212.htm [No hyphen] ）
This facility was used primarily by brokers to consolidate orders from various manufacturers for export. Brokers like to buy from different factories to get the best price or meet shipping deadlines or whatever, so they may buy from 2, 3 or more factories to fill one order. In order to make this work, the brokers need a warehouse to consolidate the shipments from the different factories and it needs to be one that they control, not any single factory.
The fireworks were brought in from the factories in Hunan and Jiangxi by truck and when everything for an order was ready, the cartons would be packed into containers for shipment through the inland port of San-shui via Hong Kong to the customer.
Two of the twenty warehouses were approved for the storage of 1.1G; however based on my tour none of the warehouses would meet ATF or NFPA standards for construction, quantities and distances for consumer fireworks, much less display fireworks. The site was comprised of 173 acres, however the twenty warehouses were clustered together because the primary concerns seemed to be security from theft and ease in consolidating export orders.
This wasn’t the first incident involving the transportation of fireworks through Guangdong.
If you recall there had been an explosion in one of the container yards in Changsha in 2006. A worker reportedly was using a torch to straighten a bent door when there was a massive explosion. The fireworks inside were supposedly 1.4G but the aftermath of the explosion made it clear this was not the correct classification. The explosion killed the worker, injured many others and caused millions in damage to cargo in other containers and nearby buildings.
It also shut down the facility causing delays and major losses to many other businesses.
And in 2004 while workers were handling fireworks in a rail car in Changsha, there was another unintended ignition that destroyed the railcars and injured 20 workers.
Recall also the massive explosion at the Horse fireworks factory that led to the banning of all fireworks manufacturing in Guangdong. The officials there are very sensitive to anything that might jeopardize the largest economic zone in China.
After the Sanshui 2008 incident, CIQ looked at all of the possible sources of unintentional ignition that might occur with finished fireworks in shipping cartons. Then the M/V Hyundai Fortune was lost due to an explosion that initially was blamed on fireworks, raising concerns even more.
The strike anywhere ignition on some consumer fireworks bound for Europe was the most plausible explanation, given the workers were handling cartons in that building at the time of the initial ignition. There was also concern with strobe formulations, improper classifications and storage, and of course, the sensitivity of electric igniters to impact and friction.
The reports that were translated into English indicated it began in building #7 and the workers were able to escape before the contents were fully engulfed in a conflagration that spread to other nearby buildings. There were also reports of arson because security cameras captured the workers running away, but of course, this behavior would also be expected in the event of accidental ignition.
The initial concept that the workers could control the fire using water buckets and the pumps with the retaining pond for a water source were doomed from the start, given the size, speed and intensity of the conflagration. Hundreds of fire fighters responded but quickly determined there was no point in attempting to suppress the fires in the warehouses, so they addressed secondary fires that sprang up from firebrands that came down in the vegetation and nearby village.
If the initial ignition had involved 1.1G or 1.3G fireworks, or fireworks that should have been classified as 1.1G or 1.3G, it is highly unlikely that any of the workers in the building would have escaped. The fire spread through the facility and burned for some 30 hours, destroying all 20 buildings and their contents.
I’ve read some reports there were only some 15,000 cartons involved, while others indicate there may have been 300,000 cartons total and others 100,000 cartons in each building. My feeling is it was closer to the latter. The facility was the largest of its type in China and most certainly handled thousands of containers a year.
Here’s video that was taken later in the day:
The inland ports of Sanshui and Nansha handled some 12,000 containers a year which is estimated to be about 60-70% of the Chinese fireworks exports per year. Sanshui reopened and resumed normal operations in May 2007 but until then, all fireworks to be exported were diverted to the only three ports permitted to handle fireworks, Shanghai, Beihai and Nansha.
Shanghai and Nansha were limited to 1.4G only and a QIC inspection of each container was required to ensure the contents were truly 1.4G prior to shipment, which created even more delays. Beihai would accept 1.3G but had limited space in the dangerous good container yard. There were also only so many berths available on container ships servicing this port.
The shift also added to the inland freight costs for fireworks produced in Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces.
China Shipping announced that they would no longer accept display shells, fireworks containing red strobe or blue strobe, and packaging that has strike surface (for example on match-head cracker boxes).
One important aspect of this policy is that aerial shells can no longer have electric igniters installed at the factories in China. This means display operators in the US must either have an ATF approved processing building or area and the required ATF manufacturing license, plus know how to properly pack and ship the shells with the installed igniters and train employees accordingly; or have the crew install the igniters at the display site. Either way increases the time needed to prepare electrically fired displays, as well as the costs.
HOW IT’S DONE IN JAPAN
The vast majority of the displays in Japan are now fired electrically. Only the smaller displays in some of the really rural areas might still be fired manually.
I like the way the most Japanese companies do it. They order their shells from China with NO LIFT and have the time fuses covered with a paper cap. Tests they did of unintended ignition of a single aerial shell in a carton resulted in very few conflagrations, and even then it was limited to perhaps a single carton; the rest was a whole bunch of cartons and shells being kicked out by the initial shell functioning – but not igniting.
They have clear cellophane pouches of black powder with an electric igniter, with the appropriate amounts of blackpowder for the various sizes of shells. The shells are shipped separately from the pouches of black-powder with the igniters.
At the display site, they charge the mortar with the appropriate blackpowder pouch and igniter, remove the paper cap over the time fuse and then load the shell into the mortar with a string or rope on the top of the shell.
If there is an unintended ignition of a shell in a magazine or during transport, it really reduces the potential for a massive explosion because there are no leader fuses or lift charges on the shells to rapidly spread the fire. If there is an unintended ignition of the pouches of blackpowder with the igniters in a magazine or during transport, there will most likely be a big fireball or small explosion; but no large explosions or conflagrations because there are no shells with the blackpowder. It is simple, effective and inexpensive.
ONE COMPANY’S EXAMPLE
Gunsmith of Kunitomo uses heavy gauge stainless steel mortars which are welded onto pallet size stainless steel bases that require small cranes and forklifts to move.
His destructive testing of the mortars resulted in ZERO failures. He spent hundreds of thousands on the mortars which are all stored inside a large warehouse. He also has to spend a lot to move them and set up a show – but he doesn’t have to worry about mortar failures or rack tip-overs.
The other thing that impressed me was the Japanese insist that high quality time fuse is used and that it must be crossmatched both inside and outside of the casing.
This increases the costs but significantly reduces the chances of duds.
They also used WANO blackpowder for the lift, and a number insisted on shipping WANO blackpowder to China for the break charges as well. They also required testing of the chemicals prior to making stars and effects, following their standards for shell casings, etc., PLUS a number of quality control steps that were recorded and reported.
The Japanese also insist on having EVERY shell packed in a plastic bag that is sealed, then packed in an individual box for that size shell, and then packed into a shipping carton with an inside liner. This makes a huge difference in the event of some external heat, spark or flame because it makes it less likely there will be fire transfer to multiple shells in a carton, much less from carton to carton.
The Chinese factories that manufacture for Japan often have experienced Japanese technicians that work in the plant to ensure everything meets their standards.
This shows that the Chinese can and will make better product provided the buyer insists on the higher standards, is willing to pay for it, and puts someone knowledgeable and trustworthy in the factory to both help and supervise with production.
When I toured his facilities, the wood floors reminded me of a permanent basketball court. They were level, square and tight as could be (no loose powder in the cracks). The workers all had special slippers in each magazine and process building. The rule was one had to take off their shoes and put on the slippers inside the magazine. There were only a few pair of slippers in each magazine or building so no more than 2-3 people could be in any one magazine or building at a time.
Expensive? Sure, but everything in Japan is expensive. At the same time they have a lot fewer problems due to malfunctions and really, really good shows.