On the night of August 12th, 2015, the Chinese city of Tianjin was rocked by two massive explosions in its Benhai port region. The death toll as of the 23rd was at 123 with 50 still missing, most of whom are firefighters. The origin of the explosions can be traced to a fire at a warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics earlier that night. What caused the fire is still unclear. It is believed by some officials that firefighters exacerbated the fire by dousing it with water, as calcium carbide, which produces a flammable gas upon contact with water, was among the chemicals stored at the site. Among the other chemicals at the site were ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and sodium cyanide.
Other than lives lost, the human cost continues to rise, with many still in critical condition. Environmental and air quality effects are not yet known, and many are still waiting to receive basic information. Around 17,000 homes were damaged by the blast, and further alarms were raised with the realization that the homes were only 600 meters away from the blast, despite a law that homes be at least 1000 meters from such facilities. In what seems to be an effort to cover up this incident, government censorship was on the rise, with a Weiboscope reporting a noticeable spike in censorship.Information was limited from the beginning, as the Tianjin business directory was taken offline after the blast, making it much harder to find information on Ruihai, the company that owned and operated the warehouse. Given the lack of information, many suspected that the leaders of Ruihai were connected to senior government officials. Seemingly in response to these suspicions, the Chinese government released information on the company’s leadership, including disclosing which officials had been detained due to the explosion. Ruihai, however, remains suspicious, it has been operating without a license to store hazardous materials from October 2014 to June 2015.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Chinese Report Details Role of Political Connections in Tianjin Blasts – Dan Levin
- Maps, Videos, and Photos of the Explosions in China – The New York Times
- Tianjin Blasts Expose the Dangerous Proximity of Toxic Chemicals in China – Patrick Boehler, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebeca Lai, Vanessa Piao and Crystal Tse
- Inferno – The Economist