AFP: Chemical experts assess China blast site

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher

August 14, 2015

AFP

A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts has begun work at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead.

Wednesday's detonation at a chemical warehouse in the major Chinese port city also injured more than 700, according to official media, leaving a devastated landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings.

The 217-strong group of military specialists tested the air around the site for toxic gases, with rescue teams ordered to wear protective clothing in the vicinity due to the ongoing risk of leaking poisonous chemicals, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace warned that substances from the site could be dangerous, saying it was "critical" that the potential toxins in the air were monitored closely.

Rescuers were attempting to remove 700 tonnes of deadly sodium cyanide from the area late on Thursday, Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily reported.

Wen Wurui, head of Tianjin's environment protection bureau, told a televised briefing that harmful chemicals detected in the air were not at "excessively high" levels.

A lack of answers as to what caused the blast 24 hours on has reinforced questions about standards in the country, where campaigners say lives are sacrificed on a lack of respect for safety and poor implementation.

A panel of officials at a Thursday press conference were peppered with questions about what chemicals were in the tanks that exploded, but they refused to provide details, and the briefing ended abruptly with officials rushing off stage.

"Clearly there is no real culture of safety in the workplace in China," said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which promotes worker rights.

Citing rescue headquarters, the official Xinhua news agency said 50 people had been killed, including at least 12 firefighters.

An AFP reporter in Tianjin in the early hours of Thursday saw shattered glass up to three kilometres (two miles) from the site of the blast, which unleashed a vast fireball that dwarfed towers in the area, lit up the night sky and rained debris on the city.

The blast site sits in a giant logistics hub more than twice the size of Hong Kong.

It hosts car plants, aircraft assembly lines, oil refineries and other service and production facilities.

Xinhua said 701 people were hospitalised, 71 of them in critical condition.

The blaze that followed the blast was brought "under initial control" on Thursday afternoon, Xinhua cited the public security ministry as saying, after 1000 firefighters and 143 fire engines had been deployed to the site.

Xinhua described the facility as a storage and distribution centre of containers of dangerous goods, including chemicals.

Executives from the storage centre's owner, Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics, were taken into custody by police, it said.

China has a dismal industrial safety record as some factory and warehouse owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.

© AFP 2015

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