A string of deadly explosions in the Chinese port city of Tianjin last
week has left the world’s tenth-busiest container port a smoldering
wasteland of devastation.
Lax safety procedures and grievous oversights have been blamed for the
accident, which is so far responsible for the deaths of over 100 people
and more than 700 injuries. Nearby hospitals have been filled to capacity
with victims of the disaster, many of which are being treated for serious
The blasts have released massive amounts of toxic fumes into the air, leaving
locals in fear of contamination and further disaster. Chinese authorities
are slow to reveal what was being stored in the Tianjin warehouse where
the blasts began, blaming facility management for providing “insufficient
information.” Military inspections of the wreckage site have revealed
several hundred tons of sodium cyanide, a highly deadly chemical that
is often used by the mining industry to extract precious metals.
While Chinese regulations require large warehouses handling and storing
dangerous chemicals to be located at least one kilometer away from public
facilities, this regulation apparently was not followed in Tianjin, and
angry residents are now demanding answers from Chinese authorities.
China’s public security minister promises that those responsible
for the disaster will be “punished severely.”
The Occupational Death Toll in China
China has seen several of these kinds of accidents that have costs thousands
of lives, causing some to speculate that the country is more concerned
with cheap and rapid economic growth than in the safety of its own citizens.
According to the International Labor Organization, over 68,000 people
were killed in “occupational accidents” in China last year.
Out of a country of 1.3 billion people, this amounts to nearly 186 people
per day; to put this into perspective, compare this to the U.S., which
only has 12 work-related deaths per day.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many Chinese manufacturers
are cutting corners in terms of regulations, getting into production before
even making sure that their projects receive safety approval. For example,
an explosion that occurred in April in a factory in Zhangzhou –
the second at the same site in two years – caused a widespread panic
when it was feared that the local water supply had been contaminated by
a highly flammable and toxic chemical called paraxylene. In 2013, yet
another large fire occurred at a poultry plant in Dehui, killing 100 workers
who were trapped inside of the locked building.
Cleanup from this disaster will be long and costly, and some are wondering
if the process of cleanup itself will cause further contamination. After
so many of these kinds of incidents in recent years, the accident in Tianjin
could force the Chinese government to finally invest in training to prevent