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Tianjin blast raises doubt over credibility of environmental impact assessment

Citizens mourn for the victims of the warehouse explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Photo: Xinhua

After the second explosion that hit the warehouse for hazardous materials in Tianjin's Binhai New Area on Wednesday was said to equal about 21 tons of TNT exploding, a key question is being raised: Why such dangerous goods are stored in a warehouse that is very close to the residential buildings?

Ruihai International Logistics is responsible for handling the inflammable materials in the warehouse, which is built in the location that is only 600 meters away from Wanke Harbor City, a residential estate around the blast site. reporter Wang Lingyu said that residents living in Tianbin Apartment, a residential community that is 1.3 kilometers away from the blast center, were being evacuated to safe areas at 12:00 am on Thursday. The windows of Building Number 8 in the community were shattered by the strong blast wave, Wang said, who was dispatched to Tianjin to cover the incident.

Statistics show that there are 10 residential developments built within a 3-kilometer radius of the blast center, with Wanke Harbor City alone accommodating 3,370 households. The second nearest residential development is called Qihang Home, which is about 800 meters away from the blast center.

After the explosion, a Guangzhou-based non-governmental organization released a document saying that Ruihai International Logistics plans to invest 9 million yuan to transform the existing logistical storage yard into a container yard to keep dangerous chemicals and break-bulk cargos. The container yard will cover an area of 46,226 square meters, the document says.

Previously, the Tianjin Academy of Environmental Sciences made an environmental impact assessment on Ruihai International Logistics' modification project, saying that the project will not pose a remarkable threat to the surrounding environment and the nearby residents. The environment impact assessment also said that all the related residents surveyed approved the project.

However, a number of residents living in Wanke Harbor City and Tianbin Apartment told the reporter that they did not receive any questionnaire about the safety of the project and did not even know there was a dangerous goods warehouse beside where they live.

According to the website of the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration, the Tianjin Dongjiang Maritime Safety Administration examined and assessed the security of the container yard for dangerous goods owned by Ruihai International Logistics in September 2014, but did not publicize the results of the assessment.

As of Thursday evening, 50 people including 17 firefighters have been confirmed dead in the warehouse blasts with 701 being hospitalized, and local residents around the site have been evacuated over concerns of new blasts.

(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi.)

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