On 23 February 2019, a shuttle bus carrying 50 miners to a shaft at the tin-silver-base metals Baiyinchagan mine in Inner Mongolia crashed after a brake failure, killing 22 people and leaving another 29 injured. The mine is operated by Yinman Mining, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Xingye Mining. Roskill has already reported on the implications of this tragic accident for tin supply but, following the breach of health and safety procedures, many other mines in Inner Mongolia have been closed, including a number of fluorspar mines. The region is an important producer of fluorspar.
According to local news sources, authorities announced the shuttle bus was not subjected to any safety checks and was operating overloaded at the time of the accident. It was also stated that the company had violated requirements to suspend production over the Spring Festival holiday. Local regulators ordered the Baiyinchagan mine and other Xingye Mining units to halt production for an undetermined time.
Local government authorities have started safety inspections at all mining companies in the province, including those for fluorspar, and these will continue for at least a month. China has been the world’s largest producer of fluorspar since the mid-1980s and is an important supplier to international markets, along with Mexico, South Africa and – since 2015 – Vietnam.
Over the last 15 years, the country’s role in global fluorspar markets has shifted from being a low-cost source of fluorine raw materials for international consumers, to becoming a greater supplier of value-added fluorine products as domestic companies have moved down the fluorine value chain. This has been illustrated by recent developments in Inner Mongolia, a centre for acidspar production, with recent expansions in fluorocarbon manufacture. Several companies have hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) project development plans including Inner Mongolia 3F Wanhao Fluorochemical and Inner Mongolia Yonghe Fluorochemical. The wholly-owned subsidiary Shaowu Yonghe Jintang started construction of its fluorochemcial production base in June 2018. The total investment in just this project is expected to be more than RMB3Bn. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed and start production by the end of 2019.