China denies presence of nerve gas after Tianjin blasts

Tianjin: Authorities have refuted the reported presence of nerve gas following the massive chemical explosions here that killed 114 people with 65 others still missing even as a high-level official is being probed for serious lapses that led to China’s worst industrial accident.

It is impossible for nerve gas to be present after the blasts on August 12 at a warehouse in Tianjin that stored over 3,000 tonnes of chemicals, including 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide, officials said. “A lot of people are worried about the threat of dangerous chemicals which were stored in the warehouse,” Wang Yongan, a research fellow with the Academy of Military Medical Sciences  (AMMS) was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency. “Information should be truthful and figures accurate, so that the ordinary people should not be misled and panic,” he said as some Chinese media reported nerve gas was detected at the blast site in Tianjin, adding however that producing the gas required a complex process.

The chemicals found at the site and the conditions wouldn’t allow generation of nerve gas,” he said. Nerve gas contains chemicals that disrupt the mechanism by which nerves transfer messages to vital organs. It is many times more toxic than cyanide.  The reports made people more anxious as the city is experiencing periodic showers, stirring up large amounts of chemicals still present. Nie Zhiyong, a research fellow with the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of AMMS, said that so far no nerve gas poisoning cases were reported.

Bao Jingling, chief engineer of Tianjin’s bureau of environmental protection told media here today that none of the 18 air quality monitoring spots reported excessive cyanide yesterday, while water tested at eight of the 40 monitoring stations exceeded safety standards for cyanide. About pictures circulating on the Internet that show white foam on the ground after it rained, Bao told reporters that they collected samples of water and soil from the reported location, but found no excessive cyanide.

“The injured people in the hospital were mostly wounded in the blasts, and we haven’t received any chemical toxic reports,” he said, adding that the environmental authorities are closely monitoring the site. About 677 people injured in the blasts are being treated in hospitals. Meanwhile, Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), has been placed under investigation by the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI), Xinhua reported.

He is suspected of “severe violations of discipline and law”, specially relating to the Tianjin tragedy. Significantly Yang was seen accompanying Premier Li Keqiang to the blast site last Sunday. Yang, 61, served as vice-mayor of Tianjin in 2001, before he was appointed the country’s work safety chief in May, 2012. He allegedly signed a policy in 2012 allowing firms with a port operations license to store hazardous chemicals without special certification, state-run China News Service said.

Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, the company that owns the portside warehouse was reportedly not authorised to store hazardous chemicals but was nevertheless allowed to do so under the policy, another official daily Global Times reported. So far more than 10 executives of Ruihai International Logistics have been detained, including its board director, Yu Xuewei, and deputy director, Dong Shexuan, the son of a former head of the public security bureau of the Tianjin port, the Tianjin Daily reported amid allegations that it is indirectly owned by some top officials. The son of a former police official and a former state company executive are top shareholders of the “dubious company”, the Xinhua report said highlighting how Chinese officials misused their positions to expand their business holdings.

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