A chemical explosion on August 12, 2015 in China’s port-city, Tianjin, released a high amount of toxic wastes. What triggered the explosion has not been found out yet, though a series of chemical reactions that could have intensified the explosion have been worked out. This explosion has also created several concerns in China, and even in other nations, regarding the storage of chemicals near the residential areas. This is what has been discovered until 29th August, 2015.

The Explosion

On the night of August 12, a warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics in one of the most populated parts of Tianjin caught fire and exploded. According to the news in the BBC, the first explosion was equivalent to that of three tonnes of TNT and the second explosion was much larger – the power equivalent to that of twenty-one tonnes of TNT explosion. It affected 15 million residents of Tianjin.

The first fire of Tianjin Explosion. Source: Wikipedia
The first fire of Tianjin Explosion. Source: Wikipedia
The Cause

The definite trigger of the explosion has not yet been understood. Since the warehouse stored hundreds of explosive chemicals, this would be even more difficult for the scientists to work out. According to whatever scientists have understood, it has been said that the water thrown over the already burning warehouse brought up a greater destruction. The reaction of calcium carbide with water forming acetylene is believed to have increased strength of the explosion.

The Effect

The blast was explosive enough to be seen from space and was recorded as seismic activity. At the blast site, a crater was created. According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, the chemicals stored by the company included sodium cyanide (NaCN), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and calcium carbide (CaC2), all of which are dangerous to human health. NaCN particular is highly toxic – two teaspoonful of it can kill an adult within two minutes; and CaC2 and TDI react violently with water and produce extremely reactive chemicals, with increasing risk of explosion.

The chemical explosion turned a significant amount of goods stored at and around the port, in the Binhai New District to ashes and dust. According to the BBC, large shipping containers were tossed into the air like matchsticks and were crumpled by the blasts.

A logistics park containing several thousand cars was consumed by the fireball created due to the explosion. Renault says some 1,500 of its cars were lost, while Hyundai said it had around 4,000 cars on the site – although it has not yet assessed the level of damage.

About 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide was reported at the site, the BBC says. Sodium cyanide is soluble in water and, when dissolved or burned, it releases the highly poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide. The rain that came after the explosion was followed by people complaining of rashes and burns. Though meteorologists had assured the public that the rain would not add troubles, Environment Protection Board suggested that the rain could have mixed with cyanide present in the atmosphere and the soil, bringing about hazards.

Concerns for Public Safety

The blast not only destroyed the town, but also exposed negligence of the concerned company over the safety of people. The storage site has to be at least one kilometer away from the residential area – the law China says. The law was challenged by the corrupted officials and the company, who set up a chemical storage site within 200 metres of the major residential area. The most depressing thing in this, is that the people never knew what hazards could be brought about by the chemicals stored in that warehouse.

Was this ignorance among the public deliberate? We are not sure. If they were being hidden from the truth, we can imagine how negligent the concerned authorities had been. The scientific causes of the explosion may point out towards hazardous chemicals, the social causes, however are corruption and ignorance. Since this is not the first chemical blast in China, the Chinese government should work out the ways to reduce corruption. They should also be able to educate people regarding the hazardous effects of things that are being stored around their homes. The Chinese government should set an example to the world which will inspire other countries to prevent such terrible accidents in future.

References:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-33844084

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/tianjin-china-chemical-blast-cyanide/blog/53830/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/21/world/asia/tianjin-china-explosion-hazardous-chemical-sites.html?_r=1

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