News emerged a couple of days after the massive explosion in Tianjin, China last week that hundreds of tons of industrial sodium cyanide were stored at the site of the blast and presumably dispersed in the explosion. Exactly how far the cyanide will travel will depend on how well it was dispersed, wind patterns and other factors, but some of it clearly didn’t go very far, as cyanide levels in wastewater in Tianjin are spiking.
High cyanide levels found in Tianjin wastewater
Chinese government officials reported late Thursday that cyanide levels close to a massive industrial explosion in China are more than 350 times the national standard for maximum concentration.
However, Tian Weiyong, director of the emergency department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, noted the water was mainly run-off from water related to the aftermath of the explosion and firefighting. The water with the high levels of cyanide was from inside the sealed-off disaster site, Tian emphasized, but the bodies of water in surrounding areas were all at safe levels.
More on Tianjin explosion
While the cause of the blast remains unknown, Chinese authorities have admitted that at least 2,500 tons of toxic chemicals, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide, were stored at the warehouse that exploded last Wednesday, killing more than 100 people and injuring several hundred.
Of note, at least 65 people are unaccounted for and presumed dead from the disaster. Many of the missing are firefighters.
The public is starting to lose patience with government efforts to deal with the explosion. Residents living near the Tianjin explosion area have staged protests, demanding compensation from the government or the owner of the warehouse. The mourning families of warehouse employees, passersby and firefighters who first responded to the blast were all still waiting on official word regarding their missing loved ones.
Chinese President Xi Jinping promised a full investigation of the disaster in a speech on Thursday. “The incident has caused heavy casualties and property loss,” he said, according to a statement released after the meeting. “It was a profound lesson paid with blood.”
Massive fish die-off in China near Tianjin
The toxic fallout from a series of deadly explosions that tore about the warehouse district of Tianjin last week might also be connected to the thousands of dead fish that have turned up on a riverbank only four miles from the site of the Tianjin explosion.
It could just be coincidence, but the massive fish die-off occurred within hours of authorities reporting wastewater runoff near the site of the explosions contained over three hundred times the permissible level of cyanide. Sodium cyanide is widely used in gold mining operations and in some industrial processes, is toxic to humans in very small quantities.
Hundreds of locals came to the banks of the Haihe River to take pictures of the piles of dead fish, and officials were working hard to reassure the public. Two separate government officials noted that mass fish die-offs are relatively common in the summer as oxygen levels in the already highly polluted river water often drop dramatically.
China Central Television reported late on Thursday that extensive testing showed that no significant levels of cyanide had been found in that part of the river.
Chinese corporate culture contribute to problem
A number of analysts have commented that Chinese corporate culture puts profits ahead of safety. “Companies are taking chances to skimp on safety measures, and regulating agencies are unable to enforce rules,” explained Zhong Shengjun, a professor of industrial explosion and prevention at Northeastern University in Shenyang. “This is consistent with China’s corporate culture, which is most interested in cutting costs and maximizing profits without adequate heed for safety.”