Sunday, 16 August 2015

Tianjin explosions: sodium cyanide on site may have been 70 times allowed amount

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, visited the area on Sunday afternoon on behalf of the president, Xi Jinping, according to the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist party’s official mouthpiece.

On Saturday people were evacuated from within a 3km zone around the blast site as experts investigated the media claims that about the excessive amounts of sodium cyanide stored at the facility.

But conflicting reports on an evacuation have since emerged. At a media conference on Saturday afternoon, Gong Jianshen, an official responsible for Tianjin’s publicity department, denied a 3km no-go zone had been implemented.

No such order had been given and people had not evacuated the area, Gong claimed, calling the reports “false information” according to local media.

The news was met with scorn on Chinese social media. “The government is just slapping itself in the face,” said one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter.

Local Chinese reporters on the ground contacted by the Guardian said that while many volunteers and migrant workers had left the area, residents taking shelter in schools remained on Saturday.

Residents of the Qihang Jiayuan apartment complex, which is less than 800 metres away from the blast zone, held a protest outside a hotel where the press conference was being held.

Photographs of the residents in local media show the residents, some with bandages on their arms and foreheads, holding pictures of what appear to be their devastated homes.

State broadcaster CCTV showed experts on the ground advising firefighters on the best method for extinguishing various fires still ablaze at the port facility on Saturday night, as concern spread about the potential for rain to react with calcium carbide at the site and creating a potentially toxic airborne gas.

Eric Liu, a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said that without precise data on how much calcium carbide was involved in the blast, it was impossible to predict how serious these reactions could be, but that rain was not forecast at present.

“The other danger rain poses is that chemicals stored in warehouse could be washed into water supplies, with a potentially large impact on local ecosystems,” Liu said. “However, again, without more specific information it is difficult to say what impacts exactly.”

Cyanide at the #Tianjin blast site kept intact, only small amounts leaked; air and water outside evacuation zone is safe, said authorities

Authorities said on Sunday that contaminated water was being properly quarantined and would not reach residents.

The first firefighters on the scene on Wednesday reportedly attempted to extinguish the flames with water, only tomake the blaze worse. It was only after the explosions that firefighters switched to using foam.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to control the media narrative around the incident. Fifty websites have been punished for “spreading Tianjin blast rumours” and close to 400 Weibo and WeChat accounts have been shut down, according to state media reports.

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