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Industrial Safety

Chinese Investigators Identify Cause Of Tianjin Explosion

Safety: Investigators make recommendations, spread blame around

by Jean-François Tremblay
February 8, 2016

Credit: Imaginechina/AP
The Tianjin explosion killed 165 and caused more than $1 billion in damage.
Credit: Imaginechina/AP
The Tianjin explosion killed 165 and caused more than $1 billion in damage.

A new report by China’s top governing body identifies the cause of an explosion at a hazardous goods warehouse in Tianjin’s harbor in August of 2015. The catastrophe killed 165 people.

Assigning responsibility far and wide, investigators blamed the disaster on the negligence or corruption of 123 people in addition to the 49 previously arrested.

The immediate cause of the accident was the spontaneous ignition of overly dry nitrocellulose stored in a container that overheated, according to the report, issued on Feb. 5. Wetting agents inside the container had evaporated in the summer heat, investigators found. Flames from that initial fire reached nearby ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which exploded.

Investigators determined that the accident had a fairly limited impact on the local environment. Marine life in Bohai Bay, outside Tianjin, was not affected, the investigation found. And although hundreds of tons of sodium cyanide were stored at the warehouse, no one died from poisoning, the report added. Investigators noted that local authorities are still monitoring environmental quality in the area.

The investigative team, assembled under the authority of the State Council—China’s top decision-making body—consisted of some 600 officials from agencies such as the Ministry of Environment, the State Administration of Work Safety, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s top investigative body. They reviewed thousands of documents and had access to 100,000 hours of surveillance footage, reported Xinhua, a state news agency.

Investigators found that Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics, the operator of the warehouse, illegally stored hazardous materials and that its “safety management procedures were inept.” It also assigned varying degrees of blame to 74 government officials from agencies at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Some officials, investigators found, were guilty of “taking bribes and abusing power.”

To prevent a similar catastrophe, investigators issued a list of recommendations, including the creation of a national system for monitoring hazardous chemicals storage. They also recommended that firefighters be better equipped. First responders accounted for 110 of the dead.

Responding to the report, the environmental group Greenpeace said it did not go far enough, noting that hundreds of serious industrial accidents happen in China every year. “Noncompliance and negligence on the part of companies and local administrations are among the root causes of these alarmingly frequent chemical accidents,” the group said. It called on the government to create a comprehensive system to oversee the manufacture, use, transportation, storage, and treatment of hazardous chemicals.



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Wayne (February 9, 2016 8:28 AM)
China needs competent safety leaders. Unfortunately the students from China who I have had the occasion to train tend not to go home because they fear they will be treated as scapegoats rather than safety advisors. So they stay here, or change profession or, an even bigger loss, they do both.
Paul Meyer (February 10, 2016 2:06 PM)
Sounds fairly routine in the way of industrial accidents in China. I find it most amazing that 110 of the 165 persons dead were all first responders and fire fighters. Tragic that they were not better trained and better equipped to protect their own health & safety.
Anthony Webb (February 10, 2016 5:25 PM)
According to some reports in the UK, large amounts of calcium carbide were stored at the site: this could have made things a lot worse, especially if the initial explosion fractured water mains.
Mike Schmidt (February 10, 2016 5:38 PM)
I am not sure why Greenpeace's opinion is particularly relevant. The issue is one of industrial safety, which may or may not have anything to do with chemicals, and there are several more credible organizations that could have commented on the cultural and political issues in China that prevent its government from protecting its workers from its employers.
Jetty Middelkoop (February 12, 2016 10:17 AM)
It is now time for the people who falsely accused firefighters of causing the explosion by wettening spilled carbid to make public excuses.

The statement that firefighers had caused the fire during their unequal and hopeless battle to save their community was a ridiculous and physically impossible assumption. An unforgivable offence against innocent heroes who lost their lives in the explosion and thus were unable to defend themselves against this lie.

The local fire fighters - and their colleagues all over the world who feel connected to them - are awaiting a public appology !!

Ing. Jett Middelkoop MPS
Hazmat Officer
Fire Dept. Amsterdam Amstelland
The Netherlands
steve hawley (February 15, 2016 9:34 AM)
Greenpeace, with it's history of sabotage and mass deception that has prevented needed new technologies, should not be one of the sources for comment on your articles.
Pencheng Wang (February 17, 2016 4:11 PM)
China really needs pay more attention to safety. Even in University labs, graduate students handle chemicals carelessly. But the Greenpeace comment is a joke to me, regarding the organization's history.

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