By Sadie Robinson
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Tianjin disaster exposes risks for China’s workers

This article is over 8 years, 9 months old
Issue 2467
Image from an amateur video of the explosion at Tianjin
Image from an amateur video of the explosion at Tianjin

A series of massive explosions shook Tianjin, north east China, on Wednesday of last week. Chinese media reported that the blasts burned an area of some 20,000 square metres.

At least 114 people have died. Hundreds more are injured and around 70 people are still missing, including dozens of firefighters.

The explosions took place following a fire at a warehouse run by Ruihai International Logistics. It was thought to contain several hundred tonnes of sodium cyanide. 

Some reports early this week claimed that the firm was storing 70 times the permitted amount of sodium cyanide there.

The site was also licensed to handle calcium carbide, which releases flammable gases when mixed with water.

The government inspected the site between November and December 2013. It reported that five of over 4,300 containers didn’t meet packaging standards and found inappropriate “danger” labelling.


The following year the government said it could not identify the substances stored at the site. This was due to poor records, damage to facilities and “major discrepancies” with customs.

Yet officials allowed the firm to continue operating close to a residential area.

Chinese law states that facilities handling hazardous materials must be more than 3,200 feet away from homes and public buildings. The residential complex Vanke Port City was 2,000 feet from the warehouse.

Firefighters told Chinese media they were sent to tackle the initial fire without being aware of the hazards. So they poured water on it, which is thought to have set off the explosions.

Angry residents and families of firefighters protested outside a press conference organised by local officials the day after the explosions. Police attacked them while the government threw its energy into restricting reporting of the disaster.

The poorest were hit hardest. Many migrant workers who had moved to the area from the countryside are homeless after the blasts destroyed their dormitories and huts. Yet nearby luxury apartments and office buildings remained intact except for shattered windows and minor damage.

Construction worker Wang He lived less than a kilometre from the warehouse. He said his dormitory “looked as if a giant had punched the side of the building”.

The China Labour Bulletin had recorded 26 workplace explosions this year before the Tianjin explosions. Between them these killed 65 people and injured 119.

The State Administration for Work Safety reported 862,225 accidents at work in the first four months of the year, causing 16,243 deaths.

Bosses’ drive for profit, with government support, is putting millions of working class people at risk in China. 


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