China traffic police on alert nationwide for dangerous chemicals after Tianjin blasts

Soldiers work to neutralize sodium cyanide residue in north China's Tianjin Municipality on Aug 20, 2015.
Soldiers work to neutralize sodium cyanide residue in north China's Tianjin Municipality on Aug 20, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Chinese traffic police are on high alert nationwide for dangerous chemicals, 10 days after a warehouse exploded in the country's northeast, state media said on Saturday.

Two huge blasts in the warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in Tianjin, the world's 10th-busiest port, killed at least 121 people, including 67 fire fighters, and forced the evacuation of thousands after toxic chemicals were detected in the air.

The Public Security Ministry ordered police to increase roadside checks and tighten the approval process for transportation permits, the official Xinhua news agency said.

City officials have repeatedly said contaminants found in the wake of the blasts, including deadly sodium cyanide, pose no risk to the public.

But concerns about longer-term environmental degradation and the potential impact on human health have grown, particularly after authorities confirmed that more than 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were stored at the warehouse that blew up.

More than 100 chemical firms across seven provinces have been told to shut down or suspend operations due to safety violations in recent days, announcements by regional governments show.

Chinese media reported the site of the explosions was too close to nearby homes and accused Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, the firm whose warehouse exploded, of violating national regulations.

The regulations state that large warehouses which store dangerous chemicals should be at least 1,000 metres from public buildings and transportation networks, media said.

But a safety assessment report conducted about Ruihai before last week's explosions contradicted those rules, Xinhua reported.

The report found Ruihai met regulatory standards, despite being 310 metres away from a highway, 420 metres away from light rail and 970 metres away from residential areas.

The report reappeared on Tianjin Zhongbin Haisheng Health and Safety Evaluation and Monitoring Company's (Zhongbin Haisheng) website, Xinhua said on Saturday.

Zhongbin Haisheng's website had been inaccessible from Aug 14, according to Xinhua, and it was unclear the exact time it became accessible again.

Ruihai executives have said they used connections to obtain safety approvals.

Public anger against the government has surged in Tianjin among residents of apartments near the blasts who believed authorities neglected to properly police Ruihai.

Every household in four apartment complexes destroyed by the explosions will receive quarterly compensation of 6,000 yuan (S$1,321) while living in temporary housing, the state-run China News Service said, citing authorities at a news conference.

China's State Council, or cabinet, promised it would perform a timely and accurate investigation into the blasts, state news agency Xinhua said, citing a State Council official.