China's work safety chief under probe for corruption

The authorities are investigating the head of China's work safety regulator for corruption as rain fell on the devastated industrial blast site in Tianjin yesterday, raising fears of further contamination.

Last Wednesday's deadly twin explosions at a hazardous chemical storage warehouse in the port city's Binhai district left 114 people dead and 57 others missing.

Ten people, including head Yu Xuewei and deputy head Dong Shexuan of Rui Hai International Logistics, which owns the warehouse, were detained last Thursday, officials said yesterday.

The ruling Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog said Mr Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, is "currently undergoing investigation" for suspected violations of party discipline and the law, a phrase often used to indicate corruption.

It was not immediately clear if there was any link between the probe and the blasts. But Mr Yang, 61, worked in Tianjin for 18 years and rose to be one of its vice-mayors before taking up his post at the work safety regulator in 2012.

He also attended a government meeting on rescue efforts in Tianjin on Monday night, the official Xinhua news agency reported earlier.

State media said Rui Hai was not licensed to handle hazardous chemicals until two months before the explosions.  It was also storing 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide, significantly more than the 24 tonnes it was authorised to hold, according to The Beijing News.

There were fears yesterday the rain could disperse the poisonous substance more widely, complicating clean-up efforts, although officials insist that the city's air and water are safe.

Out of 40 water testing points, eight showed excessive levels of cyanide on Monday, but these were all in the sealed-off area, said Mr Bao Jingling, chief engineer at the Tianjin environmental protection bureau. A dam of sand and earth has gone up around the blasts' 100,000 sq m core area to prevent pollutant leakage, he added.

Mr Liu Tiemin from the China Academy of Safety Science and Technology told The Straits Times the probe into Mr Yang is unlikely to be linked directly to the Tianjin blasts as investigations are still ongoing. "That's not to say he could not be responsible in some way... Even if so, Mr Yang can't be the only one at fault for such a huge accident," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'China's work safety chief under probe for corruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe