Sat, Aug 22, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Toxic chemical levels high in Tianjin

SAFETY ISSUES:After a meeting attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials, a statement called industrial safety problems ‘prominent and grave’


Workers in decontamination suits on Thursday conduct a clean-up operation at the site of a warehouse explosion in Tianjin, China.

Photo: AFP

High levels of toxic chemicals remained inside the core area of Tianjin, China, on Friday, more than a week after a massive warehouse explosion that killed at least 114 people.

Technicians have detected levels of cyanide as much as 356 times the national safe level within the evacuated area, although levels outside the zone show no undue contamination, according to state media reports.

Workers in protective suits have already started clearing wreckage, including charred car remains and crumpled shipping containers, from the site of a chemical warehouse that exploded.

Officials have ordered nationwide checks on dangerous materials, and the Chinese military said it was inspecting storage measures for weapons, ammunition and fuel, as well as chemical, explosive and toxic materials, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported.

Training in the handling of such materials and in executing emergency response plans are also to be stepped up, the newspaper said.

Driving home the importance of such efforts, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and other top leaders yesterday gathered in Beijing to hear a report on progress in investigating the disaster.

“Lately, in some places there have been major industrial safety accidents ... revealing yet again that problems in the area of industrial safety remain prominent and grave,” a statement said.

Safety work needs to be improved and attitudes need to change to “contain the outbreak of major accidents, bring about a fundamental improvement in industrial safety, and safeguard the lives and property of the masses of the people,” the statement added.

Along with safety violations, official corruption was added as a contributing cause of the Aug. 12 disaster in the port city of Tianjin, following revelations on Wednesday that the son of a former police chief, one of two silent owners of the warehouse, used his connections to help obtain licenses despite safety violations.

The other owner is a former executive at a state-owned chemical company, who also used his connections to smooth the way for approval for the facility run by Ruihai International Logistics, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The explosions that rocked the port city of Tianjin were among China’s worst industrial accidents in recent years and the deadliest on record for the nation’s firefighters, who accounted for 102 of the 179 total dead and missing. Authorities say almost 700 people remain hospitalized, while 30,000 people in and around the area have had their lives significantly affected by the disaster.

A key question is why the warehouse was able to store toxic chemicals, including sodium cyanide, ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, even though it was located less than the required 1,000m from homes and public roads — a clear violation of state safety rules.

One explanation offered by the silent owners, identified as former SinoChem executive Yu Xuewei (于學偉) and the late Tianjin port police chief’s son, Dong She-xuan (董社軒), is that they shopped around until they found a licensed safety inspection company that would give its approval.

The two are among at least 10 people reportedly taken into custody, including top officials of the warehouse’s management company.

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