Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 6 News List

UN expert slams China on chemical blast secrecy

AP, GENEVA, Switzerland

A UN human rights expert has criticized China’s lack of transparency in handling a chemical blast in the northeastern city of Tianjin.

UN expert on hazardous substances and waste Baskut Tuncak said the disaster might have been prevented or the extent of the damage limited if authorities had provided more information and pointed to countries’ obligations to inform the public about hazardous substances.

“This chemical disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the need of information about hazardous substances to protect, respect and realize human rights,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The lack of information when needed — information that could have mitigated or perhaps even prevented this disaster — is truly tragic,” he said.

The comments amount to an unusually sharp rebuke for Beijing from a UN expert and joins appeals in China for better communication from authorities about the fates those who were killed or remain missing.

The blasts at a warehouse for hazardous materials in Tianjin on Wednesday last week killed at least 114 people. Sixty-five people are still missing and 674 are hospitalized.

The statement criticized media restrictions after the explosions and called for “complete transparency” in the pending probe.

“The reported restrictions on public access to health and safety information and freedom of the press in the aftermath are deeply disturbing, particularly to the extent it risks increasing the number of victims of this disaster,” Buncak added.

The blasts occurred at a warehouse where 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide — a toxic chemical that can form combustible substances on contact with water — was being stored in amounts that violated safety rules.

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