Explosion at chemical plant rocks city in Shandong

Officials investigating the Aug 12 blasts in Tianjin said the "animal sentinels", like these caged rabbits placed at the site to help monitor the air quality, have shown no signs of discomfort. However, netizens have lambasted the efforts, and some c
Officials investigating the Aug 12 blasts in Tianjin said the "animal sentinels", like these caged rabbits placed at the site to help monitor the air quality, have shown no signs of discomfort. However, netizens have lambasted the efforts, and some cast doubts on the capability of Chinese biochemical experts.PHOTO: REUTERS

Windows shattered, tremors felt 2km from blast site; no casualties reported so far

BEIJING • An explosion last night hit a chemical plant in eastern China, the Chinese media reported, just 10 days after massive blasts ripped through a warehouse with toxic chemicals in Tianjin city.

Yesterday's blast in Shandong province took place around 8.40pm, shattering windows of houses near the site of the factory. Residents as far as 2km from the site felt tremors, said the People's Daily.

Residents in the area reported seeing huge flames engulfing the factory in Zibo city and at least six fire engines battling the fire at the site, the newspaper said on its official Weibo account, China's version of Twitter. No casualties were reported by press time.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities yesterday came under fire for using caged rabbits, chickens and pigeons to test the safety conditions in Tianjin, amid concerns about lingering toxic chemicals in the air and water, after massive explosions rocked the port city on Aug 12.

The scandal came as the powerful State Council, or Cabinet, vowed to conduct a "rigorous" investigation into the cause of the explosions that killed at least 121 people, including 67 firefighters, the official Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The government will publish the findings of the investigation, which it pledged would be timely and accurate, according to Xinhua.

Officials on Friday placed at least 30 "animal sentinels" at the blast site to help monitor the air quality, Today Evening reported yesterday, adding that rescuers would be evacuated should the animals display any signs of agitation.

"The animals have been quiet, showing no signs of discomfort.

"A specialist has been assigned to feed them daily," said the local newspaper. Still, the move has raised the ire of netizens,

Yesterday, they posted thousands of comments online lambasting Tianjin officials while forwarding photos of the animals held in small, brightly coloured cages.

"Please don't hurt the animals. Why do they have to take the rap for human errors?" a netizen asked yesterday in a post on Weibo.

Some cast doubt on the capability of Chinese biochemical experts who have been deployed to clean up the blast site.

"Don't they have any equipment that could monitor the toxic chemicals? Why just rely on several chickens?" another netizen asked pointedly in a post.

City officials have repeatedly said that 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 last week, particularly after the authorities confirmed that more than 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were stored at the warehouse that blew up.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Explosion at chemical plant rocks city in Shandong'. Print Edition | Subscribe