2015 Tianjin explosions
If you’re planning on travelling to China, we have two pieces of advice:
- Do not look like a short seller
- Do not go near any chemical factories
Failing to heed the first tip there could get you thrown in jail (or, as Man Group’s China chief Li Yifei calls it, sent on a “short vacation”).
The consequences of failing to follow the second piece of advice above could be, how should we put this… explosive.
With Beijing still scrambling to contain the fallout (both figuratively and literally) from the devastating blast at Tianjin which killed some 160 people and injured more than 700 last month, the country is on edge. Two additional chemical blasts (both in Shandong) did little to calm China’s frayed nerves and now, a fourth blast, this time in Zhejiang, has been reported. Here’s Reuters:
Fireball from the first explosion
|Time||~23:30 CST (~15:30 UTC) onwards|
|Date||12 August 2015 – present|
|Venue||Port of Tianjin|
|Location||Binhai, Tianjin, China|
A series of explosions that killed over one hundred people and injured hundreds of others occurred at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin on Wednesday, 12 August 2015. The first two explosions occurred within 30 seconds of each other at the facility, which is located in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin, China. Fires caused by the initial explosions continued to burn uncontrolled throughout the weekend, repeatedly causing secondary explosions, with eight additional explosions occurring on Saturday, 15 August.
The cause of the explosions was not immediately known, but Chinese state media reported that at least the initial blast was from unknown hazardous materials in shipping containers at a plant warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics, a firm specializing in handling hazardous materials.
Poor coverage of the event and the emergency response to it received criticism. The Chinese government also censored the internet and social media using the words “Tianjin” and “explosion”, and announced it had taken down multiple websites for publishing “false” information.
As of 2 September 2015, the official casualty report was 159 deaths, 14 missing, and 797 non-fatal injuries.
Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics (天津东疆保税港区瑞海国际物流有限公司), or Ruihai Logistics (瑞海物流), is a privately held logistics company established in 2011. It handles hazardous chemicals within the Port of Tianjin, such as compressed air, flammable and corrosive substances, oxidizing agents, and toxic chemicals. The company, which employs 70, is designated by the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration (天津海事局) as an approved agent for handling these hazardous chemicals at the port, and its operating license was renewed two months prior to the explosions. Its 46,000-square-metre (500,000 sq ft) site contains multiple warehouses for hazardous goods, a fire pump and a fire pond.
The warehouse building, owned by Ruihai Logistics, is recorded in a 2014 government document as being a hazardous chemical storage facility for calcium carbide, sodium nitrate, and potassium nitrate. Safety regulations requiring that public buildings and facilities should be at least 1 kilometre away were not followed, and local inhabitants were unaware of the danger. The authorities stated that poor record keeping, damage to the office facilities and “major discrepancies” with customs meant that they were unable to identify the substances stored. State media revealed that Ruihai had only received its authorisation to handle dangerous chemicals less than two months earlier, meaning that it had been operating illegally from October 2014, when its temporary license had expired, to June 2015.
The first reports of a fire at a warehouse in the Binhai New Area began coming in at around 22:50 local time (14:50 UTC) on 12 August. The first responders were unable to keep the fire from spreading. Firefighters who first arrived on the scene proceeded to douse the fire with water as they were unaware that dangerous chemicals were stored on the site, thereby setting in motion a series of more violent chemical reactions.
At around 23:30 (15:30 UTC), the first explosion occurred and registered as a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. Initial reports estimate that the first explosion was equivalent to 3 tonnes of TNT. Shortly after, a second more powerful one occurred, causing most of the damage and injuries with shock-waves felt many kilometres away. The second explosion has been estimated to be equivalent to 21 tonnes of TNT. The resulting fireballs reached hundreds of meters high. Around 11:40 (03:40 UTC) on 15 August, a series of eight explosions occurred in the port as fire from the original blasts continued to spread.
As of 2 September 2015, 159 people are confirmed to have died from the explosions, and 797 others have been injured. 14 people, mostly firefighters, remain missing.
Several communities with around 5,600 inhabitants are known to exist within 1 km of the plant, the closest being only 600 m away. Neither the developers nor the buyers were aware of the latent dangers of the activities at the nearby site. According to the Tianjin government, more than 700 people were injured by the explosion, many with extensive injuries, mostly from burns and explosive blast injuries. Over a thousand firefighters were on scene, 95 of whom have died. Contact was lost with 9 firefighters,but one survivor was found on the morning of 14 August, a 19-year-old named Zhou Ti (周倜). The death toll of the incident, which also includes 11 police officers, is reported to be the worst for Chinese front line responders since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Photographs and videos showed extensive destruction in and around the warehouse compound, with a massive crater at the blast site. The buildings of seven more surrounding logistics companies were destroyed, and large quantities of intermodal containerstacks have been toppled and thrown by the forces of the explosions. More than eight thousand new cars from Hyundai, Kia,Volkswagen, Renault, and Toyota, parked in lots located near the blast site, have been largely burned as a result of the initial explosions. Multiple buildings surrounding the blast site have been called “structurally unsafe”.
Apartment blocks 2 km (1.2 mi) from the site sustained shattered glass, loss of roof tiles and damage to ceilings – with 17,000 units being affected. Nearby Donghai Road Station suffered severe damage as a result of the explosions and is closed indefinitely, as has the rest of Line 9 of the Tianjin Metro since 13 August. A Japanese department store four kilometres away reported damage to walls and ceilings. The explosions also affected the National Supercomputing Center of Tianjin several kilometres away, knocking out windows and causing some internal ceilings to collapse; the supercomputer itself was not damaged.
It is not known what chemicals were being stored at the site. In addition to vast quantities of sodium cyanide and calcium carbide, 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and 500 tonnes of potassium nitrate exploded, according to local reports. On 17 August, the deputy director of the public security bureau‘s fire department told CCTV:
Over 40 kinds of hazardous chemicals [were stored on site]. As far as we know, there were ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate. According to what we know so far, all together there should have been around 3,000 tonnes.
Ammonium nitrate, which is principally used in manufacturing fertilizer, has been implicated in a number of other fatal industrial explosions. A fire department spokesman confirmed that firefighters had used water in combating the initial fire, which may have led to water being sprayed on calcium carbide, releasing the highly volatile gas acetylene. This may have detonated the ammonium nitrate.
At least 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide was stored at the site – 70 times the legal limit. Sodium cyanide leakage has been reported in the sewer. On 13 August, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, all of which are toxic, were detected within 500 m (1,600 ft) of the origin of the explosion, but the levels conformed with the national standards. The government maintained that gases were undetectable 2 km (1.2 mi) from the site during initial testing on 14 August.
With the first rains after the initial explosions, coming on 18 August, white chemical foam covered the streets. Citizens complained of burning sensations and rashes on sensitive skin parts after coming into contact with rain droplets. However, meteorologists sought to reassure the public that the rain was not directly harmful to health, whilst the Environment Protection Board advised against exposure to the rain due to traces of cyanide dust reacting with water.
Thousands of dead sticklebacks washed up on the banks 6 km from the explosion site on 20 August, fuelling fears of water contamination. Officials downplayed the fears, saying that there were not high levels of cyanide in the river and that the fish likely died due to oxygen depletion in the water.
Rain on 25 August 2015 in the Binhai New Area brought more complaints of skin burns from volunteers and journalists. A bright white foam also appeared on the streets. Deng Xiaowen, director of Tianjin’s environmental monitoring centre, stated that the foam was “a normal phenomenon when rain falls, and similar things have occurred before”.
Aftermath and emergency response
The morning following the explosion military personnel began to arrive in Tianjin to help with the search and recovery efforts. Extra equipment, such as bulldozers, were brought in to help with the clean-up operation. Over 200 nuclear and biochemical experts, including a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, began arriving in Tianjin to assess the health risks from the chemicals being released into the atmosphere. Government personnel set up twelve temporary monitoring stations near the blast site with above normal levels of “harmful air pollutants” being detected. A nearby drainage outlet was also closed, and water quality tested.
At 14:30 (06:30 UTC) on 13 August, firefighting was suspended due to the uncertainty of the content and quantity of hazardous materials being stored on site. A team of over 200 chemical specialists was deployed to the site to assess the hazardous materials on site and dangers to the environment, and to determine the best way to put out the remaining fires and proceed with search and rescue and clean-up operations.
On 13 August, rescue personnel were dispatched in an attempt to remove the 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide believed to be stored at the site, with hydrogen peroxide being prepared to neutralise the chemicals. Daily press conferences were organised. A press conference organised by local officials held on 14 August came to an abrupt end when a journalist began asking questions as to why such dangerous chemicals were stockpiled so near to housing estates.
Initially, more than 3,500 area residents were staying in temporary shelters, however, as of 15 August, this number has grown to more than 6,000. The government issued an evacuation order over concerns of further explosions; not all residents complied.
Several hours after the initial blast, at 3:30 am on 13 August, Tianjin mayor and acting Communist Party SecretaryHuang Xingguo arrived at TEDA Hospital to visit injured victims. Shortly thereafter, Guo Shengkun, the Minister of Public Security, visited the blast site in Tianjin and called for all-out efforts to save lives. The next few days saw more senior officials visit the explosion site, including Vice-Premier Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier Ma Kai, and Premier Li Keqiang accompanied by State Councilor Yang Jing. At the press conferences, the district governor of Binhai New Area addressed the press.
Ruihai is owned via proxies by Yu Xuewei, a former senior executive at Sinochem, and Dong Shexuan, who serves as the company’s vice-president and is now under police custody. Dong Shexuan is the son of Tianjin port’s former police chief Dong Peijun, who was a colleague of Wu Changshun, the former chief of the public security bureau of Tianjin. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), CPC’s anti-corruption body, charged Wu Changshun with bribery in 2014; Dong Peijun was also under investigation for corruption, but died that year.
After the explosions, the CCDI placed Yang Dongliang, Director of the State Administration of Work Safety and China’s highest work-safety official, under investigation on 18 August 2015. Yang had previously served as Tianjin’s vice mayor for 11 years. In 2012, Yang Dongliang had issued an order to loosen rules for the handling of hazardous substances, which may have enabled Ruihai to store toxic chemicals such as sodium cyanide.
On 27 August, Xinhua reported that police had arrested twelve people with suspected connections to the explosions, including Ruihai Logistics’ chairman, vice-chairman, and at least three other managers, with the other seven people unnamed.
The Tianjin internet police warned social media users to use only official casualty figures.
Tianjin Television had reported the explosion on their early morning news at 7:00 am, but citizens complained that the station had not reported live nor updated on the event, showing instead soap operas eight hours later.
A great deal of specific information on the event, including the majority of early stage video was first released over social media sites, and in particular microblogging platformslike Weibo. Major media has drawn heavily from social media sources, greatly widening the audience. The Economist noted, “Social media fills in the blanks left by official narratives of the Tianjin disaster. The most remarkable feature of the aftermath of the explosions in Tianjin, in northern China, has been the extraordinary contrast between the official reaction to the crisis, which has been profoundly flawed, and the online reaction, which has entirely dominated the agenda.”
Censorship and criticism
Chinese authorities reportedly attempted to censor professional and social media reports. The censorship rate increased tenfold on the social media site Weibo, with users reporting that their posts regarding the blasts are being deleted, with the words “Tianjin” and “explosion” being the most censored.
The Cyberspace Administration of China banned all journalists from posting to social media, and insisted on strict adherence to Xinhua copy. On 15 August, it announced that it had shut down 18 websites and suspended 32 more for spreading false information. More than 360 Weibo and public WeChat accounts which had allegedly been spreading such false rumors have been “punished according to laws”. Of these accounts, over 160 were shut down permanently.
Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused the Chinese state media of playing up the heroic efforts of rescue workers and firefighters while downplaying the causes of the explosions and the number of casualties. RSF said that censorship by the Chinese authorities showed “a flagrant indifference to the public’s legitimate concerns”.
BBC, AP, UPI, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and many other major media outlets dispatched journalists to Tianjin.
A CNN correspondent was interrupted by bystanders and forced to leave during a live report outside TEDA Hospital. A journalist from the Beijing News reported that he and two other reporters were chased by police, caught, searched, and made to delete photographs from their cameras and computers.
Immediately following the blasts, company registry site went off-line, fuelling suspicions that an attempt was being made to shield owners with powerful connections. For several successive days, local residents seeking compensation for their now worthless homes protested in front of the venue of the daily press conference, they were joined by distraught families of missing firefighters, and confronted police angrily.
The Chinese public security minister threatened to severely punish those found to be responsible for the explosions. However, typical of past practices of censorship and obfuscation, the authorities did not release any significant information for several days about the chemicals and circumstances, causing public anger to mount during this time. Marking an official change of tack, the official People’s Daily joined in to criticise local officials’ lack of candour and their use of bureaucratic jargon. In addition, the Global Times remarked on the inadequacy of emergency response and the reluctance of high-ranking officials to answer the public’s questions and address their concerns until four days after the blasts. The People’s Daily acknowledged that public scepticism of the reported death toll was fuelling rampant rumours; there was also disquiet over the emergency assistance provided and the way the aftermath was being handled. Attempting to defuse widespread anger at the lack of official transparency, mouthpieces of the ruling party declared that investigations would be thorough and transparent. Former deputy mayor, Yang Dongliang, was put under investigation for corruption; mayor Huang Xingguo proclaimed his “unshirkable responsibility for this accident”. Authorities also released information about the ownership of Ruihai, as well as a confession for the proxy shareholdings.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Asia alleged that two Sinochem subsidiaries – Sinochem Tianjin Binhai Logistics Company (with a 130,000-square-metre (1,400,000 sq ft) site) and Tianjin Port Sinochem Hazardous Goods Logistics Company Ltd. – had warehouses in the vicinity in close proximity to a primary and a nursery school, meaning that both were also in similar breach of laws.
Observers state that top officials always attempt to show such disasters as isolated instances, have never accepted political accountability nor addressed the underlying governance issues, and have always heavily censored any criticism of the central government. Willy Lam, professor at CUHK and senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, noted the highly unusual 4 days it took for Li Keqiang to make an official visit, suggesting that the lack of a top-ranking visitor to a major disaster site within 48 hours despite the proximity to Beijing reflected “division among the leadership on who should be the fall guy.”
Caught On Tape: Another Huge Chemical Warehouse Explosion Rocks China
Who could have seen this coming?
We’ll await the details which we imagine will suggest that, as was the case in Tianjin, many more tonnes of something terribly toxic were stored than is allowed under China’s regulatory regime which apparently only applies to those who are not somehow connected to the Politburo. Indeed, The People’s Daily is reporting that the plant contained adiponitrile, which the CDC says can cause “irritation eyes, skin, respiratory system; headache, dizziness, lassitude (weakness, exhaustion), confusion, convulsions; blurred vision; dyspnea (breathing difficulty); abdominal pain, nausea, [and] vomiting.”
There are two videos shown below. As of now, there’s some confusion as to which is authentic.
An explosion has been reported at a chemical plant in China’s eastern province of Shandong.
Large flames can be seen from the site of the blast in Zibo County. There are so far no reports of any casualties.
The People’s Daily said a warehouse at the plant exploded and firefighters are at the scene. There is a residential area about 1km from the plant.
Earlier this month blasts in the northern city of Tianjin killed at least 116 people, with hundreds hurt.
Unverified YouTube footage showed a massive explosion at the Shandong plant.
It is not yet clear if homes in the Shandong area have been damaged.
And from Reuters:
The factory produced adiponitrile, a colorless liquid that releases poisonous gases when it reacts with fire, the People’s Daily said, citing the state-run Beijing Times.
Seven fire brigades consisting of a total of 150 fire fighters and 20 fire engines were sent to the scene and fire brigades that are trained to work with fires involving chemicals are being dispatched, Xinhua said.
Windows shattered in the village where the blast occurred, state media said, and tremors reverberated within 2 kilometers (1 mile) of the site of the explosion.
2015 Dongying explosion
|Time||~23:22 CST (~15:30 UTC) onwards|
|Date||31 August 2015 – present|
|Location||Dongying, Shangdong, China|
The 2015 Dongyin explosion was an explosion that occurred at the Diao Kou Xiang Bin Yuan Chemical Co. in Dongying,Shangdong, starting on Monday, 31 August, and killing one person. The blast was so massive it could be seen and heard from a great distance. The subsequent blaze was extinguished about five hours later.
Twelve government officials and company executives were detained.
Another Chinese Chemical Plant Explodes, Huge Clouds Of Black Smoke Billow Skyward
An explosion shook a chemical plant in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, state media said on Monday, though there were no immediate reports of casualties in a country on edge after blasts killed more than 160 people last month.
The blast caused a fire and thick smoke to bellow from the plant in Lishui city shortly before midnight, state radio said on its official Weibo microblog.
With Tianjin it was sodium cyanide and with Shandong adiponitrile – looking at the visuals below, we can’t help but wonder what’s now being disbursed into the air over Zhejiang.
Here are the visuals: