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Four new fires break out at Tianjin blast site, widespread safety hazards found

21 August 2015

On August 21, Xinhua reported that firefighters, soldiers and police were attempting to douse four new fires which had broken out in the area damaged by last week's explosions in Tianjin. The state news agency also reported that the death toll from the blasts now stands at 116, with another 60 people missing. About 700 were hospitalised.

Fires burn at the Tianjin blast site - Image: Sina
Fires burn at the Tianjin blast site - Image: Sina

One of the fires began in what the emergency workers called the "tomb of cars," the logistics park in which thousands of automobiles were torched in the two blasts that occurred in a warehouse in the eastern Chinese port city on August 12. They suspect the blaze may have been caused by combustible material in the fuel tanks of the cars.

The other three fires are in the central blast zone.

New fires keep igniting at the blast site, which is scattered with smouldering chemicals and flammable substances.

More than 4,460 soldiers and armed police officers have been called in to collect thousands of tons of dangerous chemicals and clean the area damaged by the blasts, Xinhua said.

The warehouse was storing about 40 substances including around 1,300 tonnes of oxide compounds, mainly potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate; 500 tonnes of inflammable materials, consisting of metallic sodium and magnesium; and 700 tonnes of highly toxic substances, mainly sodium cyanide.

Nationwide inspections of Chinese facilities handling dangerous chemicals and explosives following the blast have found widespread hazards, Xinhua said, citing Beijing's work safety bureau. In Beijing alone, an inspection of 124 sites that stored dangerous chemicals found hazards at 85 firms.

More than 100 chemical firms across seven provinces have been told to suspend operations or shut down due to safety violations in the recent days. This includes 19 companies in Hubei province, 26 in Anhui, 39 in Zhejiang and two in Beijing, Reuters said.

Inspectors carrying out the safety reviews in Beijing found that security personnel at a branch of Sinopec Corp, Asia's largest refiner, were unfamiliar with how to handle an oil tank fire, Xinhua said.

"Companies that fail our inspections will be ordered to suspend operations, and their warehouses will be put under 24-hour surveillance," Xinhua quoted Qian Shan, vice-head of the Beijing work safety bureau, as saying.

A thick white foam was spotted in parts of the city, raising fears there could be toxic chemicals outside the 3km ­exclusion zone.

And Chinese TV showed workers scooping thousands of dead fish out of the Haihe river near Tianjin, a day after authorities had declared the city's drinking water to be safe. Tianjin officials said the dead fish were caused by regular seasonal low oxygen levels in the water and were not related to the blasts.

Authorities however also warned that cyanide levels in waters around Tianjin port, the world's 10th-busiest and the gateway to China's industrial north, had risen to as much as 277 times above acceptable levels.

Tianjin mayor Huang Xingguo told reporters at a briefing that all chemical companies would be required to relocate 25 km (15 miles) from the port's central Binhai district and that there would be "zero-tolerance" for violations.

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