Public anger grows as China confirms hundreds of tonnes of cyanide were held at blast-hit port of Tianjin

Families of firefighters clash with police as officials acknowledge hundreds of tonnes of chemicals were stored at one of the nation’s busiest ports

South China Morning Poast
Date: Monday, 17 August, 2015
By: Mandy Zuo and Keira Lu Huang in Tianjin

Chinese officials confirmed on Sunday that hundreds of tonnes of highly poisonous cyanide were

Relatives of missing and dead firefighters, argue with policemen as they gather outside the government hall of Binhai New Area to request more information yesterday. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
Relatives of missing and dead firefighters, argue with policemen as they gather outside the government hall of Binhai New Area to request more information yesterday. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

being stored at a warehouse in the port city of Tianjin  when it was hit by explosions last week, as authorities vowed to investigate whether any officials were guilty of dereliction of duty.

The developments came as the death toll from the disaster, which has crippled one of the world’s busiest ports, rose to 112 dead and 95 still missing – 85 of them firefighters who  responded to the initial blaze.

Fears of toxic contamination have grown and anger at a lack of transparency by the authorities has intensified, prompting protests by families of the missing firemen.

Shi Luze, chief of staff of the Beijing military region, said cyanide had been identified at two locations in the blast zone.

“The volume was several hundred  tonnes, according to preliminary estimates,” he said.

Premier Li Keqiang pays his respects to the blast victims. Photo: XinhuaPremier Li Keqiang  arrived in Tianjin in the afternoon to extend condolences to firefighters, the injured and other residents, and deploy relief operations, state media reported.
Premier Li Keqiang pays his respects to the blast victims. Photo: XinhuaPremier Li Keqiang arrived in Tianjin in the afternoon to extend condolences to firefighters, the injured and other residents, and deploy relief operations, state media reported.

The cyanide was being handled in various ways, including being neutralised with hydrogen peroxide.  About 3,000 soldiers were searching for dangerous chemicals within three kilometres of the blast site.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate had sent a team to Tianjin to investigate possible dereliction of duty, Xinhua reported.

Most of the sodium cyanide at the site belonged to Hebei Chengxin,  a producer of the chemical in neighbouring Hebei  province, Caixin reported.

A company executive identified as Wang said Hebei Chengxin had delivered the cyanide to the warehouse, owned by Ruihai International Logistics, and that Ruihai had been due to export it. Ruihai was one of the few companies permitted to handle a wide range of hazardous materials, including sodium cyanide, he said.

Hebei Chengxin’s general manager, Zhi Qunshen, said the company was still determining how much of the chemical had been collected after the blasts.

A driver who transports chemicals for Ruihai said he usually drove 40 tonnes of sodium cyanide at a time, and that four or five trucks’ worth would be delivered each month, Sohu.com reported. He said the chemical would be kept at Ruihai for several days at a time.

Bao Jingling, from Tianjin’s environmental protection bureau, tried to calm fears over the impact of cyanide, saying it was a risk to human health only when people were exposed to high levels over a long period.

Greenpeace said it tested surface water for cyanide at four locations in the city and did not detect high levels.

Families of the missing firemen protested outside a district government office, demanding information on their relatives, prompting confrontations with police.

Nearly 100 homeowners who lived near the site also took to the streets to demand the government buy their damaged 8flats.

Around five uniformed policeman watched as the owners, some of whom were in bandages, protested peacefully.

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