The warehouse was storing the dangerous chemical sodium cyanide in huge amounts
reported by state media. The company obtained a license to handle hazardous material despite being as close as 500m of residential complexes and public infrastructure, in clear violation of a national rule mandating a 1000m safe distance for hazmat storage.
Calls to the regulatory agencies, Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration and Tianjin Municipal Transportation Commission, were unanswered on Monday and Tuesday. tate media also reported 130 neighbouring businesses and residents had been surveyed about the company’s activities and raised no objection to the company’s bid for the hazmat license. But residents affected by the blasts say they were unaware of the survey and had no knowledge of the hazardous material stored in huge quantities in their backyard.
The survey was allegedly part of the environmental impact assessment required of Ruihai to gain the hazmat permit. On Wednesday, Tianjin officials said the assessment should have been open to the public, but the local environmental protection agency had failed to do so. No explanation was provided.
“Had we known about the hazmat warehouse, we would have never bought this apartment,” says Chen Yang, who bought an upscale apartment near the port in late 2014. “We knew of the Tianjin port, but we never knew there was hazardous material there.”
Zhong says it is possible such surveys are fabricated as part of licensing processes.
“If the public truly had the right to know, if the licensing process were open and transparent, then many safety issues would not have been bypassed – they would surely have been addressed,” Zhong says.
He says it remains to be seen whether the Tianjin blasts will be a turning point for industrial workplaces.
“I hope it would be the case, but it’s unlikely as long as the mentality toward work safety does not change,” he says. “The factory owners are still taking their chances.”