Two weeks removed from the Tianjin chemical explosion in northern China, the death toll has risen to 123, including 70 firefighters or policemen, with another 50 still missing, according to Xinhua.

With residents worried about air contamination, caged rabits, chickens, and pigeons have been placed near the blast site to test for possible “chemical remains.” Many residents remained wary after thousands of fish washed up on the shores of the Haihe River, hinting at water contamination from the blast. State officials said they did not find toxic levels of cyanide in the water, and blamed the mass deaths on the summer heat, stating that it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Thousands of fish killed by the chemical fallout of the blast wash up on shore. Getty Images

There had been several warnings before the Tianjin explosion about the dangers of relaxed safety policies concerning hazardous chemicals in China. According to Zhao Laijun, a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University, in China more than 4,000 people were killed in over 3,600 hazardous chemical accidents between 2009 and 2014. He says there are too many firms that are willing to ignore the law in order to make more of a profit. A review published by two government scientists points to a disorganized and poorly planned system for managing such chemical sites, especially in cases of emergency response. After a separate July explosion in Rizhao, the Tianjin government had even pressured chemical companies to do self-inspections to improve safety, but it is unknown if Ruihai, the owner of the Tianjin site, took any action to improve safety. Inspections that were ordered after the latest explosion have already found violations at 70% of firms handling hazardous chemicals in Beijing.

Of further concern, there are still many hazardous chemical sites near residential neighborhoods all over China, including at least two more sites in Tianjin that do not adhere to the lawful distance between such sites and residential neighborhoods.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Death toll from Tianjin warehouse blast rises to 123Xinhuanet
  2. Caged bunnies, chickens placed at Tianjin blast zone for toxicity testsCNN
  3. Thousands of Dead Fish Wash Up on Tianjin’s Shores, a Week After the BlastsTIME
  4. China chemical safety problems highlighted before Tianjin blastsReuters
  5. Tianjin Blasts Expose the Dangerous Proximity of Toxic Chemicals in ChinaThe New York Times
  6. Inferno – The Economist
  7. Tianjin Blasts Expose the Dangerous Proximity of Toxic Chemicals in China – Patrick Boehler, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebeca Lai, Vanessa Piao and Crystal Tse
  8. Chinese Report Details Role of Political Connections in Tianjin Blasts – Dan Levin
  9. Poisonous Connections – The Economist
  10. Maps, Videos, and Photos of the Explosions in China – The New York Times