Over the past four days many words have been written about the massive explosion in Tianjin on Wednesday.
Tianjin is about 140 kilometres southeast of Beijing and is one of China’s biggest cities with a population of nearly 15 million people.
A manufacturing centre and major port for northern China, it is closely linked to Beijing, with a high-speed train line cutting the travel time between them to only 30 minutes. With smaller explosions still occurring, as firefighters and the military attempt to contain the resulting fires from the explosion and the possibility of dangerous products spreading to the environment and the community, I will try and summarize what the media has reported so far. It must be emphasized that much of this is only speculation and the official Chinese investigation is now underway.
The explosion occurred on Wednesday creating two large fire balls that spread for hundreds of metres from the epicentre. The explosion in itself registered 2.9 on the Richter scale.
The size of the explosion and fire ball indicated a large quantity of product igniting rapidly.
The comments by Shi Luze, chief of the general staff of the Beijing military region, were the first official confirmation of the presence of the chemical at the hazardous goods storage facility at the centre of the blast. Hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide were being stored at the warehouse devastated by the two giant explosions. The death toll rose to 112 from Wednesday’s disaster, the number of missing rose to 95, most of them fire fighters, state media said, suggesting the toll would rise significantly. More than 720 people remained in hospital.
The warehouse, designed to house dangerous and toxic chemicals, was storing mainly ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium carbide at the time, according to police.
It also contained many tonnes of sodium cyanide used for fumigation, extracting gold and silver from ores, and chemical manufacturing. It is a highly toxic asphyxiant that interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen.
One of the theories is, an explosion could be caused if firefighters sprayed the calcium carbide with water, David Leggett, a chemical safety expert based in California, said the acetylene explosion could have detonated the ammonium nitrate, this could explain the level of devastation.
No matter how this massive event occurred the fact is that there are many of our fellow firefighters died doing their duty and our thoughts go out to their families and colleagues.