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China identifies 123 officials responsible for fatal Tianjin explosions

09 February 2016

A State Council investigatory team has identified 123 people, including five officials at ministerial level, responsible for the Tianjin warehouse explosions in August that killed at least 165 people, according to Xinhua. The team published their official report on February 5, significantly widening the net of blame. Previously, 49 people were placed under coercive measures because of their involvement.

Burnt-out cars after the Tianjin explosions - Image: Sina
Burnt-out cars after the Tianjin explosions - Image: Sina

On August 12, two explosions ripped through the Ruihai Logistics' warehouse in Tianjin Port killing 165 people, including 99 firefighters. Another eight people are still unaccounted for. The explosions damaged 304 buildings, 12,428 cars and 7,533 containers, with verified direct economic losses of 6.87 billion yuan (about 1.1 billion US dollars).

After five months of investigation, the team has concluded that the disaster, "an extraordinarily serious production safety accident," was caused by ignition of hazardous materials, improperly or illegally stored at the site.

The fire started in a container through auto-ignition of nitro-cotton, due to vapourisation of the wetting agent during hot weather. The fire spread, igniting other chemicals, including ammonium nitrate.

Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics Co. Ltd (Ruihai Logistics), the owner of the warehouse, had "illegally built a freight yard of hazardous materials, conducted illegal operations, illegally stored hazardous material and had been running inept safety management," the report said.

The probe suggests 74 officials be subject to Communist Party of China disciplinary procedures, 48 be admonished by their local discipline inspection commissions. One other culpable person died of natural causes during the course of the investigation.

The report also recommends that Ruihai Logistics' licenses be revoked and company executives be banned from any other executive posts in the sector.

In response to the report, Greenpeace said the event showed the world the extreme urgency for reform in China’s lax chemicals management system. The environmental NGO called for the introduction of an effective monitoring system in China’s chemicals industry that was transparent and open to public scrutiny.

China is the world's second largest hazardous chemicals manufacturer, as well as the second largest chemicals consumer, but its chemicals industry has a very poor safety record, Greenpeace said. Some 320 chemical related accidents, accounting for the death of 2,200 people were recorded between 2010-14, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.

Greenpeace said an effective chemicals management system must be based on three key components: chemical identification, risk and alternatives assessment, and an understanding of risk control and emergency measures, as already existed in the United States and Europe.

The NGO said a reformed chemical management system should cover the manufacture, use, transportation, storage and treatment of hazardous chemicals and must be strictly enforced.

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