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 burn injuries.
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 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 future disasters.
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