Safety Fears Linger After Further Chemical Blast in China's Shandong

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Workers in decontamination suits clean up the site of the explosions in Tianjin, a major port city in northeastern China, Aug. 20, 2015.
Workers in decontamination suits clean up the site of the explosions in Tianjin, a major port city in northeastern China, Aug. 20, 2015.

Further explosions at a chemical factory in eastern China following massive blasts that killed 121 people in the northern port city of Tianjin earlier this month have raised further fears over public safety among local people.

At least nine people were injured after a blast ripped through a chemical plant in Zibo city, in the eastern province of Shandong on Saturday night, starting a fire at the Shandong Runxing Chemical Technology Co, according to official media.

"A total of 150 firefighters from the city's fire brigade are battling the blaze," Xinhua news agency reported.

It said the company manufactures adiponitrile, a colorless and flammable liquid that "can give off toxic fumes after decomposing on heating or burning."

A resident of Zibo city who lives around one kilometer from the factory said there was extensive damage in his village from the explosion.

"Some of the houses in our village have their windows shattered," the resident said. "Of course the explosion was a bit frightening."

A second resident from a nearby township said he had felt the shock of the blast, from several kilometers away.

"We felt the shockwave of the blast in the air even from a few kilometers away," the resident told RFA on Sunday. "Some of our doors rattled as well."

He added: "Today, all the roads have been closed off, and they won't let anyone go there. They have sealed off all the nearby roads."

He said the groundwater has long been polluted by nearby petrochemical factories.

"They have zoned Huifeng petrochemical and chemical factories right next to where we live," the resident added. "The frightening thing [about these explosions] is that there could be poisonous gases that disperse."

Some still missing

Fifty-four people remain missing in Tianjin amid fears of widespread environmental pollution by the toxic chemical sodium cyanide, which was stored at the warehouse at the epicenter of the blasts.

The death toll from the Tianjin disaster rose to 121, including 67 firefighters and seven policemen, Xinhua reported on Saturday.

It said 640 people remain in hospital, including 48 in critical condition.

Meanwhile, concerns remain about the longer-term environmental fallout from the blast.

Water samples from seven out of 27 locations near the blast contained "excessive levels of cyanide," Xinhua quoted environmental officials as saying.

The worst sample had cyanide levels up to 54.6 times higher than safe levels, it said, adding: "All cyanide-tainted water is being contained in the exclusion zone."

Local residents are still reeling from the impact on their lives, however, with hundreds of families made homeless in the wake of the blasts.

"There are police all around the ... district, and they won't let anyone in from outside," a local resident surnamed Yuan told RFA on Monday. "They won't let anyone near the scene; they don't want people to see what's going on."

"They have given 6,000 yuan to each family [made homeless] to rent a place to live, but some families are demanding that the government buy back their property, because it's uninhabitable," Yuan said.

"They want justice, but it'll be hard to find a brave enough lawyer. They have asked a few lawyers already, but they all said they wouldn't take the case."

Repeated calls to the Tianjin municipal government rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Lack of supervision

Beijing-based environmental activist Huo Daishan said the environmental assessment for the Ruihai Logistics hazardous materials warehouse was carried out by the son of the Tianjin port police department.

"These transactions of money and power are very common all over China," Huo told RFA.

"Local people who have the most to lose aren't able to take part in safety and environmental assessments carried out by companies."

Huo added: "They must set up a channel whereby the general public can supervise those in power, and make public the pollution statistics from businesses; this is the only way supervision can be effective."

Meanwhile, Wuxi-based environmental activist Wu Lihong said current regulations require companies to include local residents in such assessments already.

"But when companies are undergoing regulation, it is seen simply as a matter of power and money," Wu said. "The ties between government and business mean that they pull the wool over the eyes of the general public."

Reported by Gao Shan and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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