News Feature | August 25, 2015

Cyanide Infects Tianjin Waterways After Chemical Plant Explosion

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Waterways in China contain an appallingly high level of cyanide after an August 12 explosion at a chemical plant that killed at least 123 people.

“The blasts produced shock waves felt for miles. Streets were carpeted with glass from shattered windows. Many of the injured were hit by flying glass and other debris as thousands of apartment windows blew in,” The New York Times reported, referring to the scene as a “wasteland.”

“The explosions affected a huge swath of the city: 17,000 homes damaged, more than 170 companies affected and 3,000 cars destroyed. Thousands of people whose homes were damaged by the explosions' shock waves took shelter in nearby schools and apartment compounds in the days afterward,” CNN reported.

The devastation had an immediate detrimental effect on waterways in Tianjin, a port city. Thousands of fish washed up dead on a riverbank, the Times reported in a separate piece.

“Chinese authorities warned that cyanide levels in the waters around the explosion site had risen to as much as 277 times acceptable levels although they declared that the city's drinking water was safe,” Reuters reported.

“Cleanup teams have set up quarantine zones to block the cyanide-tainted water and were still working to decontaminate the area,” CNN reported, citing the state-linked publication Global Times.

In some spots, the levels were even higher. Ministry of Environmental Protection official Tian Weiyong cited a location with levels 350 times above what is considered safe, according to CNN.

“The local government said it would relocate chemical plants away from the area, where thousands of nearby residents were forced to evacuate after toxic chemicals were detected in the air due to the explosions [on August 12],” the report continued.

The facility contained over 700 tons of the chemical toxic chemical sodium cyanide, according to the Times, which cited Chinese officials. The catastrophe has sparked a debate about safety hazards in China and a backlash among residents.

Some residents protested “with their heads still wrapped in bandages -- demanding to know how a chemical facility was located so close to their homes and calling on the government to purchase their damaged homes outright,” The Huffington Post reported.

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.