Greenpeace says Tianjin blasts expose loophole in management of dangerous chemicals

Greenpeace says the blasts in Tianjin expose a huge loophole in management of dangerous chemicals in the country.

TIANJIN, CHINA (AUGUST 14, 2015) (REUTERS) – Greenpeace on Friday (August 14) said the blasts in Tianjin, China exposed a huge loophole in the management of dangerous chemicals in the country.

Two explosions tore through an industrial area in China’s northeastern port city of Tianjin on Wednesday (August 12) night killing at least 54 people, including a dozen fire fighters, state media said. About 700 people were injured, 71 seriously.

Investigators searched for clues on Friday to identify what the two explosions at a warehouse used to store toxic chemicals and gas at the busy port, as foreign and local companies assessed the damage to their operations.

Cheng Qian, Toxics Assistant Campaign Manager of non-government organization Greenpeace said the blasts had exposed a big loophole in the management of dangerous chemicals in the country.

“Actually it exposes a problem that at present in China, our public has not participated in and has not clearly understood the relevant information regarding to the process of production, transportation and usage of the harmful chemicals, especially dangerous chemicals, which is a huge loophole in the management process,” Cheng said.

The explosions at the port, the world’s 10th largest, were so big they were seen by satellites in space and registered on earthquake sensors.

The warehouse was designed to store dangerous and toxic chemicals, according to an assessment by environmental inspectors published in 2014. It was storing mainly ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium carbide at the time of the blasts, according to the police.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Beijing environmental emergency response centre, as well as 214 Chinese military nuclear and biochemical materials specialists, had gone to Tianjin, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Several thousand residents were moved to 10 nearby schools after apartment buildings and homes were damaged, mainly by shockwaves from the explosions, it said.

Cheng said it’s still too early to assess the impact from the explosions to the nearby places before clearly understanding the situation at the scene.

“We think now it’s too early to widen the current potential impact to the surrounding areas. At present, what we should realize at the moment is that what’s happening right now there. We are probably still unable to have a clear idea of (the situation) at the scene in Tanggu area so we can’t make a clear assessment. But there is one point (we’re) certain is that we must realize it has affected local environment and local (people’s) health,” she said.

Vast areas of the port were devastated, crumpled shipping containers were thrown around like match sticks, thousands of new cars were torched and port buildings reduced to burnt-out shells, Reuters witnesses said.

President Xi Jinping said those responsible should be “severely handled”.

Tianjin city officials had met recently with companies to discuss tightening safety standards on the handling of dangerous chemicals, authorities said.

Industrial accidents are not uncommon in China following three decades of breakneck economic growth. A blast at an auto parts factory in eastern China killed 75 people a year ago when a room filled with metal dust exploded.