The death toll continues to rise as workers and residents struggle to clear rubble from the site of an explosion that occurred on August 12 in one of China’s largest port cities, Tianjin. A series of massive explosions originating from a chemical warehouse rocked the city, located about 75 miles east of Beijing. The blast injured more than 700 people, and as of Aug. 18, the death toll had climbed to 114. Its likely more bodies will have been found by the time this issue of the Report is sent to the printer.
Many of the dead were firefighters and other first responders who reported to the scene. Reports confirm 50 firefighters were killed, and 52 others are among the 57 people still missing. This is the deadliest disaster ever for Chinese first-responders in more than 60 years. It was indeed a very sad day and unfortunately the problems created are far from over.
The warehouse stored sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical that can ignite when it comes into contact with water. It is suspected that firefighters were not warned about the presence of this toxic chemical when they responded to the fires following the explosion, potentially increasing their risk as they tried to battle the blaze. The explosion raises several serious questions. Government regulations require that hazardous materials be stored at least 1,000 meters from homes and public structures. The warehouse was in clear violation of this regulation, and many nearby residents were injured when the explosion caused their homes to shake and windows to shatter. Additionally, the warehouse should have been limited to storing no more than 10 tons of toxic chemicals at a time. Reports indicate the warehouse held several hundred tons of sodium cyanide.
There are continued fears of contamination from materials either leaking from the facility or toxic waste in the blast debris. Just after the blast, authorities found highly toxic hydrogen cyanide in the air at levels up to 28 times higher than considered safe at eight of 29 testing sites in the blast zone. Residents and officials fear rain and thunderstorms could spread some of the hazardous chemicals from the blast site and possibly set off fires, chemical reactions and other explosions.
In addition to the cost of human life and health, the Tianjin explosions are estimated to tally up total insurance losses of $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Tianjin was the world’s third-largest port in terms of total cargo volume. The port is China’s largest entry point for imported cars, handling about 40 percent of cars imported into the country in 2014. Additionally, transport insurers are taking a hit for damage to containers, warehouses, and the port’s infrastructure, including trains, railroad tracks and cranes.
It has been determined that a number of toxic substances are present at the site of the explosion, including huge amounts of cyanide. In fact, cyanide levels more than 350 times standard limits have been detected in water close to the site. The chemical was detected at 25 water monitoring sites. The highest level found was 350 times the permitted level.
As a result of the incident, Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, the national organization responsible for industrial safety efforts, has been placed under investigation on suspicion of “severe violation of discipline and law.” Additional media reports say 10 other people have been taken into custody, including officials from the management company that handled the warehouse. China’s Executive Vice Minister of Public Security Yang Huanning is overseeing the investigation, along with China’s Cabinet and State Council.
Sources: Associated Press, Claims Journal
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