Chemical levels above safe limit at site of Tianjin warehouse explosion

Sodium cyanide from a stockpile of 700 tonnes found scattered across blast area as two more survivors pulled from ruins of port complex

South China Morning Post
Date: 16 August, 2015
By: Nectar Gan and Keira Lu Huang in Tianjin

Firefighters continued to battle flash fires in Tianjin late Saturday night, three days after

Firefighters work at the site of the explosions on Saturday. Photo: AFP
Firefighters work at the site of the explosions on Saturday. Photo: AFP

two massive explosions rocked one of mainland China’s biggest port claiming the lives of at least 104 people.

Chemical experts have also located amounts of potentially deadly sodium cyanide scattered across the blast site, which they believe came from a stockpile of 700 tonnes of the toxic chemical stored in the warehouse at the epicentre of last week’s blasts.

A report in the official Science and Technology Daily said the chemical had been scattered by the blasts, but the exact size of the warehouse’s stockpile had not been confirmed by the government.

Of the 722 people injured in the explosions, 58 remained in a critical condition heading into Sunday morning.  It is unclear how many people are still missing or unaccounted for.

Two more survivors were pulled from the ruins on Saturday, one of them identified by state media as Han Fengqun. There were no details about the second.

Tianjin fire chief Zhou Tian said that due to the long working hours, some firefighters suffered chest pain and felt weak.

Ruins strewn across the port’s warehouse area burst into flames several times Saturday

A man carrying his belongings walks out of his home in a residential area near the site of the explosions in Tianjin on Saturday. Photo: AFP
A man carrying his belongings walks out of his home in a residential area near the site of the explosions in Tianjin on Saturday. Photo: AFP

morning, sending thick plumes of smoke into the sky. By evening, the flames had been put out, but columns of smoke continued to rise above the shipping container littered blast site.

The new fires led the authorities to order residents who had taken refuge in a school near the blast site to be evacuated after a change in wind direction sparked fears of toxic poisoning, Xinhua reported.

Other reports said people within 3 kilometres of ground zero were ordered to evacuate, but this was later denied at a press conference held by the authorities.

By the early hours of this morning, two of the 17 air-monitoring stations around the blast site had recorded amounts of the highly poisonous hydrogen cyanide exceeding safety limits for a short period, Tianjin’s environmental protection chief Wen Wurui told state broadcaster CCTV.

One station was 0.04 times over the limit, the other 0.5 times higher. Wen said coming into contact with the substance in a short period of time would not have an obvious effect on the human body.

Hydrogen cyanide can be released by sodium cyanide, a highly toxic substance which can kill rapidly if inhaled when it dissolves or is burnt.

News website Thepaper.cn reported the sodium cyanide at the blast site was from the Hebei Chengxin in neighbouring Hebei province, citing several workers at the company, who claimed it is one of largest producers of sodium cyanide in China.

The workers said the company’s owner and managers hadgone to Tianjin to help deal with the substance, the report said.

President Xi Jinping said recent work safety accidents had exposed severe problems in the mainland’s production safety.

Premier Li Keqiang urged state departments and local governments to check for potential safety hazards.

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