Government report says cyanide in waters near Tianjin blast site are 277 times acceptable level


Troubled waters for Chinese port city

Reuters |

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Soldiers of National Nuclear Biochemical Emergency Rescue Team were prepared for anything when they were sent in on Friday.

Authorities are warning that cyanide levels in the waters around the Tianjin Port explosion site have risen to as much as 277 times acceptable levels, although they declared that the city’s drinking water was safe.

The local government also said it would relocate chemical plants away from the area, where thousands of nearby residents were forced to evacuate after toxic chemicals were detected in the air due to the explosions last week, which killed 114 people.

A report from the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau issued yesterday said that tests conducted the day before showed that cyanide levels in the river, sea and waste water in the evacuated area surrounding the explosion site had risen sharply since the deadly blasts. One testing site at the mouth of a rain water pipe recorded cyanide levels 277 times above acceptable standards.

Drinking water in Tianjin, however, met national standards, according to a separate statement from health authorities on Tuesday.

Chemicals on site

The government has confirmed there were about 700 tonnes of the deadly chemical sodium cyanide in the warehouse that blew up late last Wednesday.

Tianjin, the world’s 10th-busiest port, will relocate chemical plants from the Tianjin Binhai New Area where the blasts occurred to the Nangang Industrial Zone, 25km  away.

The Tianjin government announced on Wednesday that after days of investigations, they had determined the warehouses contained 2,500 tonnes of 40 types of dangerous goods, classified into three categories. There were 1,300 tonnes of potentially explosive oxidising chemicals, including ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, 500 tonnes of flammables, including sodium and magnesium, and 700 tonnes of deadly poisons, mainly sodium cyanide.

How could this have happened?

Apartment buildings and a railway station were closer to the warehouse than allowed by Chinese regulations on storing dangerous materials. In recent days the blame for the disaster has been placed on executives of Ruihai, the company which owns the chemical warehouses. Reports have said they used connections to obtain fire safety and environmental approvals.

Beijing’s anti-graft watchdog promised to crack down both on corruption and on those responsible for violating laws and regulations which had led to the explosions but stressed the importance of maintaining political stability.

The Tianjin government said it would conduct third-party assessments to determine whether to buy back some of the estimated 17,000 apartments damaged by the blasts, after hundreds of local residents demanded the government either provide compensation or buy back their damaged or destroyed property.

“Apartments that should be torn down will be torn down, apartments that need to be rebuilt will be rebuilt, apartments that need to be repurchased will be repurchased,” said Vice Mayor Zong Guoying.