Rain in Tian­jin raises con­cerns of pol­lu­tion


Heavy rain fell Tues­day on the re­mains of a Chi­nese in­dus­trial site dev­as­tated by gi­ant ex­plo­sions, com­pli­cat­ing clean-up ef­forts and height­en­ing fears about toxic con­tam­i­na­tion as cer­e­monies were held to mark the dis­as­ter’s 114 deaths.

Around 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide were at the site in the north­ern port of Tian­jin, of­fi­cials say, and wa­ter could spread it more widely.

Rain­wa­ter could also dis­perse chem­i­cal residues on the ground into the air when it evap­o­rates, and some of the many sub­stances on the scene could re­act with it.

Amid public anger over the dis­as­ter more de­tails about the site op­er­a­tor were re­ported and a se­nior work safety of­fi­cial was put un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Of­fi­cials have in­sisted the city’s air and wa­ter are safe, but lo­cals and vic­tims’ rel­a­tives have voiced skep­ti­cism, while in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment group Green­peace has also urged trans­parency.

“I’m wor­ried be­cause we don’t know what’s in the rain,” said a taxi driver as he made his way through the morn­ing del­uge. “It could be full of poi­son.”

Out of 40 wa­ter test­ing points, eight showed ex­cess lev­els of cyanide on Mon­day, all within a cor­doned­off area sur­round­ing the site of the blasts. The high­est read­ing was 28.4 times of­fi­cial stan­dards, said Bao Jin­gling, chief engi­neer at the Tian­jin en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion bureau.

The chem­i­cal had been de­tected at another 21 points and cyanide traces were de­tected at four other sea­wa­ter test­ing points, he added.

Author­i­ties have built a dam of sand and earth around the blasts’ cen­tral 100,000-square-me­ter “core area” to pre­vent pol­lu­tant leak­age, Bao said, and drained wa­ter from pits and pipe­lines to make space for the rain.


cyanide, which has a va­ri­ety of in­dus­trial uses in­clud­ing gold min­ing, is a toxic white crys­tal or pow­der. It can re­lease hy­dro­gen cyanide gas, used in gas cham­ber ex­e­cu­tions in the U.S.

Acute ex­po­sure at lower con­cen­tra­tions can cause weak­ness, nau­sea and eye and skin ir­ri­ta­tion while chronic ex­po­sure can af­fect the car­dio­vas­cu­lar and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tems.

‘Pay­ing high at­ten­tion’

“We are pay­ing high at­ten­tion to the rain forecast for the com­ing cou­ple of days,” Bao told re­porters.

“We are mak­ing plans for the treat­ment of tens of thou­sands of tonnes of pol­luted wa­ter in the pit in the core area.”

The air would be “closely mon­i­tored” at 18 test­ing points, and if ex­ces­sive lev­els of cyanide or or­ganic com­pounds were de­tected the public would be alerted promptly, he promised.

Jour­nal­ists were guided to one pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion, where Bao re­it­er­ated that cyanide lev­els in the air were within ac­cept­able lev­els.

Es­chew­ing a safety mask at the out­door site, Bao in­sisted: “Ev­ery- thing I’m telling you is sci­en­tific.” A few po­lice and mil­i­tary per­son­nel at the site wore pro­tec­tive masks but oth­ers did not.

Res­i­dents, how­ever, were skep­ti­cal.

“How can we say that the en­vi­ron­ment is clear?” asked Chen Xingyao, who lived near the blast site and was protest­ing out­side the ho­tel where the press con­fer­ence was held, to de­mand gov­ern­ment com­pen­sa­tion for her ru­ined apart­ment.

“Also, if only the gov­ern­ment will test the en­vi­ron­ment, no­body can know whether it’s good or not.”

Amid public anger over the blast and the han­dling of the af­ter­math, Chi­nese media — ef­fec­tively con­trolled by the main­land author­i­ties — have pointed the blame squarely at lo­cal of­fi­cials and the com­pany in­volved, rather than at any sys­temic fail­ings in the Com­mu­nistruled main­land part of China.

The ware­house owner, Rui­hai In­ter­na­tional Lo­gis­tics, had a li­cense to han­dle dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals at the time of the blast, but there were ques­tions about its cer­tifi­cates and it had pre­vi­ously op­er­ated with­out one, Xin­hua News Agency re­ported.

A to­tal of 10 ex­ec­u­tives from the firm, in­clud­ing its chief ex­ec­u­tive, have been de­tained by po­lice, re­ports said.

The head of com­mu­nist China’s na­tional work safety watchdog, Yang Dongliang — a for­mer vice mayor of Tian­jin — has been put un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for “sus­pected se­vere vi­o­la­tion of dis­ci­pline and the law,” the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s in­ter­nal anti- cor­rup­tion watchdog said with­out giv­ing de­tails. The phrase is nor­mally a eu­phemism for cor­rup­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to state broad­caster CCTV, a se­nior fire brigade of­fi­cial said there had been a to­tal of 3,000 tonnes of dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals on the site, in 40 dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories.

The Fitch rat­ings agency said the to­tal in­sur­ance losses could reach US$1.5 bil­lion.

Mourn­ing Cer­e­monies

At cer­e­monies in the city, of­fi­cials and per­son­nel in mil­i­tary uni­forms bowed their heads to com­mem­o­rate the dead, who num­bered 114 by Tues­day, with 57 miss­ing and 31 bod­ies not yet iden­ti­fied.

Sirens sounded across dis­plays of white flow­ers, the color of mourn­ing in China. The sev­enth day af­ter a death, in­clud­ing the day it­self, is a tra­di­tional oc­ca­sion to mark the demise.

Out­side the ho­tel, about a dozen home­own­ers protested hold­ing yel­low chrysan­the­mums — a mourn­ing flower.

“Some in­no­cent peo­ple died in this ex­plo­sion,” said one man, a univer­sity teacher who de­clined to give his name. “We feel very sorry.”

The protesters held a ban­ner griev­ing for dead po­lice, and signs with photos of their dam­aged res­i­dences read­ing: “Give back our homes!”

Chen, the pro­tester, was among the group. “We can­not go back, we have chil­dren, we have fam­i­lies,” she said. “We can­not trust that the en­vi­ron­ment is suit­able for us to live.”


Sol­diers, po­lice­men and paramil­i­tary po­lice­men bow their heads at a me­mo­rial ser­vice for vic­tims of the Tian­jin blasts near the dis­as­ter’s epi­cen­ter in Tian­jin, Tues­day, Aug. 18.

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