Amid Contamination Fears, China Blocks Blast Site

Officials scramble to clear Tianjin of sodium cyanide
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 16, 2015 7:33 AM CDT

(Newser) – Authorities pulled more bodies from a massive blast site in the Chinese port of Tianjin, pushing the death toll to 112 today as teams scrambled to clear dangerous chemical contamination. Hundreds were injured and 85 firefighters and 10 others are missing since a fire and rapid succession of blasts late Wednesday hit a warehouse for hazardous chemicals in Tianjin, 75 miles east of Beijing. New small explosions continued to rock the locked-down disaster zone over the weekend. Angry relatives of missing firefighters stormed a government news conference yesterday to demand any information on their loved ones. The death toll includes at least 21 firefighters—making the disaster the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than six decades.

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Two state-run Chinese news outlets, the Paper and the Southern Metropolis, reported that the warehouse was storing 700 tons of sodium cyanide—70 times more than it should have been holding at one time, and that authorities were rushing to clean it up. Authorities also detected the highly toxic hydrogen cyanide in the air slightly above safety levels at two locations, the Paper cited a Tianjin environmental official as saying. But the contamination was no longer detected later yesterday. Authorities were keeping people outside a 1.8-mile radius around the site in what media reports said was an operation to clean up the sodium cyanide. Heavy smoke from a fire engulfing several cars rose as high as 10 yards, accompanied by at least five explosions. Police and military set up checkpoints on roads leading to the blast sites, and helicopters hovered in the overcast sky. The air had a metallic chemical smell, and there was fear that rain mixed with the chemicals could set off more explosions. (Read more China stories.)

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