Fires break out at Tianjin blast site

Dead fish washed up on the banks of Haihe river in Tianjin on Thursday. Greenpeace said yesterday it had detected low levels of cyanide in surface water at three test points in Tianjin: two of them near the site and one at the Haihe river.
Dead fish washed up on the banks of Haihe river in Tianjin on Thursday. Greenpeace said yesterday it had detected low levels of cyanide in surface water at three test points in Tianjin: two of them near the site and one at the Haihe river.PHOTO: REUTERS

Media reveals that earlier warnings about China's industrial safety had been ignored

BEIJING • Four new fires broke out yesterday in the devastation left by giant explosions in the Chinese port city of Tianjin last week, state media reported, as clean-up efforts at the site continued.

The latest development came as the media revealed yesterday that several publications warning about China's industrial safety had preceded the blasts in Tianjin, but failed to draw attention from the authorities. New fires have repeatedly broken out on the site, which is scattered with smouldering chemicals and flammable substances, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Photographs of the area have regularly shown smoke rising from various points.

One fresh blaze was in the depot where at least 3,000 cars were torched, and suspected to be caused by fuel in vehicle tanks, it said. There were fires at three other locations in the "central blast zone", it added.

The explosions at a hazardous goods storage facility last week triggered a giant fireball and killed at least 116 people, officials said, with 60 others missing and hundreds more injured. The blasts have also sparked fears of toxic pollutants contaminating the air and water of the city, which has a population of around 15 million people.

Large quantities of hazardous chemicals were stored at the site, officials have said, including about 700,000kg of highly poisonous sodium cyanide, a white powder or crystal which can give off lethal hydrogen cyanide gas.

Officials have sought to reassure the public, but cyanide levels 356 times the permitted limits have been found in water at one test point in the site, and the Tianjin environmental protection bureau said on its website that cyanide five times the permitted limits was detected at an air test point yesterday before falling.

Tianjin's vice-mayor Wang Hongjiang told a press conference that 200,000kg of sodium cyanide had been collected so far.

Greenpeace said yesterday it had detected low levels of cyanide in surface water at three test points in Tianjin, two of them near the site and one at the Haihe river, where pictures on social media had shown thousands of dead fish.

Tianjin officials have said that fish frequently die en masse in local rivers during summer due to the poor quality of the water, and that they had not detected toxic levels of the chemical.

The explosions occurred despite several warnings from observers.

Last month, a peer-reviewed research paper published by two Chinese government scientists concluded that accidents in chemical industrial parks were a "significant issue". As far back as 2009, Chemical Industry News, a local industry publication, reported that many of China's chemical warehouses were old and likely to have safety problems, and many others were likely to be operating without licences.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Fires break out at Tianjin blast site'. Print Edition | Subscribe