On August 12th 2015, a series of explosions occurred at a container storage station. The blast consisted of two separate explosions that went off within 30 seconds of each other at a facility in the Port of Tianjin. Fires continued to burn throughout the weekend, causing a series of secondary explosions. The latest count of confirmed deaths is 114 people with as many as 80 people missing, mainly consisting of firefighters. There were 5,600 inhabitants that lived within 1km of the plant – the explosive blast and burns injured over 700 of them.
The cause? Government sources have identified three chemicals that were stored at the site that may have contributed to the explosion: ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and calcium carbide. In particular, ammonium nitrate can explode when heated over 400 degrees Fahrenheit – it was used in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombings.
Over 700 tons of the highly toxic sodium cyanide was stored at the site. That is 70 times the legal limit. The chemical has been detected in the sewers. The local authorities have ordered the evacuation of residents living within 3 km of the explosion site. That means that over 6,000 people are now displaced in various temporary shelters.
Many point that this is just another example of the dangers of Chinese industry. Lax safety procedures and oversight are blamed for the deaths of the victims, sending toxic fumes into the air, creating another threat to deal with.
President Xi Jinping told authorities to learn from the “extremely profound” lessons of the accident. The only problem is that it has all been said and done before, yet the accidents keep occurring. For example, in 2014, 68,061 people died on the job in China. However, the numbers of deaths do seem to be reclining. Work accidents in industrial, mining and commercial sectors has gone down 12.9% since the previous year. Though, the number of Chinese residents that fall victim, especially to toxic contamination continues the same.
It is known that producers cut regulation corners and countless examples of constructing plants and beginning production before a project has been approved. In April, there was an paraxylene explosion at a factory in Zhangzhou – the second to occur in the past two years. In 2013, over 100 workers died when there was a fire at a poultry plant in Dehui. Many died because of narrow exits and locked doors.
Regulations set by the State Administration of Work Safety say that facilities over 550 quare meters that contain and handle dangerous chemicals must be at least one kilometer from public buildings and facilities. That did not happen in Tianjin and the locals are asking why, why hasn’t the Chinese government done more to protect them?
Hopefully the Tianjin blast will be the last example and a turnaround point for China.