After China Blasts, Questions About Firefighting, Port Safety

天津大爆炸:消防措施和港口安全受质疑
Firefighters work at the site as smoke rises from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, Aug. 13, 2015.

VOA News Joyce Huang, William Ide,August 15, 2015

As Chinese authorities continue investigating the causes of massive explosions in the northeastern city of Tianjin, they are also scrutinizing the city’s firefighting operations and port safety.
 
The two gigantic blasts, which occurred late Wednesday near a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals in the city’s industrial neighborhood, killed at least 50 people and injured 700 others.
 
The casualties include the first batch of more than 30 firefighters, a dozen of whom rushed in to put out a fire. Many are now dead or missing.

Some experts say that those firefighters, who had little clue of what had caused the flames while battling the blaze, may have made things worse by spraying water on hazardous chemicals and triggering explosions.

The warehouse was storing mainly ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible chemical used in explosives, and potassium and calcium carbide, among other hazardous chemicals, according to police.
 
“Calcium carbide will react with water to create acetylene. Basically, it [acetylene] can be easily ignited by any source of fire. If the quantity is large enough, a huge explosion may be triggered,” said Biing-jiun Uang, professor of chemistry at National Tsing Hua University.

Such a massive blaze, triggered by explosive chemicals, is beyond the capabilities of many fire rescuers. Hao-giang Tay, deputy president of the Malaysia branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers, said those first responders should not have be left alone in the first place to deal with the blasts.
 
“They [firefighters] are actually trying to deal with fire. Bombs, explosions are supposed to be dealt with by the bomb squad, special bomb squads either from the police or from the military,” said Tay.
 
A team of 217 military, nuclear and biochemical specialists, along with a group from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Beijing office, have reportedly been dispatched to the site, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
 
Port safety
 
Concerns have also been raised about the issue of port safety as Tianjin will be the port for the massive metropolis planned around Beijing.
 
The blasts on Wednesday have made many question why a facility storing such large quantities of volatile chemicals had not been housed in a more isolated area.
 
“The planning department should be looking at that and say let’s get a separation. There must be a buffer zone. If they were built very much farther away, then, of course, you know, the damage will be contained within the incident place,” says Tay of the Institution of Fire Engineers in Malaysia.

At a press conference on Friday, authorities said that Ruihai International, the company at the center of the disaster, received approval to renovate its warehouse in late 2012 so that it could be used as a temporary storage facility for hazardous materials.
 
Officials also have said that the massive destruction brought on by the blast is frustrating investigations. They said conflicting information from company managers and customs authorities is also making it difficult to identify just what chemicals and hazardous materials were in the warehouse when the blast occurred. Officials have said that on average the warehouse had about 50,000 tons of dangerous materials.
 
China Dialogue, a bilingual website in Chinese and English that focuses on environmental issues, said that in 2013 the Tianjin Academy of Environmental Protection Sciences conducted an environmental impact assessment of the warehouse. The review highlighted the dangers materials there posed, but added that the risk of any accident occurring was within acceptable limits.
 
The report also said that in response to 130 questionnaires, 100 percent agree the site was suitable and 52 percent felt the warehouse's environmental protection measures were sufficient.
 
The report did not say who responded to the questionnaires, and now in light of what has happened, many are likely to be asking just how and why the environmental impact assessment was approved.

天津大爆炸:消防措施和港口安全受质疑

美国之音黄丽玲, 艾德,2015年8月15日

在中国当局继续调查天津大爆炸原因之际,人们也在审视该市的消防和港口安全措施是否得当。

星期三晚上,天津滨海新区开发区一个堆放危险化学品的仓库附近发生两次巨大爆炸,造成至少50人死亡,700多人受伤。

伤亡者包括第一批前往救火的30多名消防队员,其中有12人冲进火场救火。他们中的许多人现在已经遇难或下落不明。

一些专家表示,这些消防员在救火的时候几乎不清楚起火原因,有可能是因为他们向危险化学品喷水而引发爆炸,令局势恶化。

警方说,仓库主要存放用于制作炸药的、非常易燃的硝酸铵,还有钾和电石,以及其他危险化学品。

台湾国立清华大学化学系教授汪炳均说:“电石跟水会产生乙炔。而乙炔需要一点点火源去把它点燃。如果量很大,就会发生大爆炸。”

由易爆化学品引发的如此大规模的火情,超出许多救火人员的能力范围。消防工程师协会马来西亚分会副会长浩江·泰(Hao-giang Tay)说,首先,第一批救险人员就不应该单独处理爆炸。

他说:“他们事实上要应对的是火灾。炸弹、爆炸这些应由警方或军方的拆弹部队,特种防爆部队来处理。”

 中国官媒新华社报道说,由军事专家、核及生化方面的专家组成的共217人的团队,以及国际原子能机构北京办事处的一个小组,已经被派往出事现场。

港口安全

天津港是规划中的北京周边大都市的海上门户,因此港口的安全也引发人们担忧。

星期三的爆炸引发许多人质疑:为什么一个存储如此大量危险化学品的设施没有建在一个离居民区更远一点的地方。

消防工程师协会马来西亚分会的浩江·泰说:“规划部门应该意识到这点,把两个分开。必须要有一个缓冲区。如果是建在更远的地方,损害就会被控制在事故发生区域的范围之内。”

当局在星期五的新闻发布会上说,涉案企业瑞海国际物流公司在2012年底获得改造仓库的审批,让仓库能够用于临时存储危险品。

官员还说,爆炸造成的大规模破坏阻碍了调查的展开。他们说,由于涉案企业负责人提供的信息与海关提供的信息有出入,因此,要确认爆炸发生时仓库里有哪些化学品和危险品也变得困难。官员说,这个仓库的危险品年周转量在5万吨左右。

关注环境问题的中英双语网站《中外对话》说,网上传出一份由天津市环境保护科学研究院在2013年撰写的环评报告。这份环境影评估报告强调了这些危险品存在的风险,但同时也说,事故风险在可接受的范围内。

报告还说,环评调查发放130份问卷,其中100%的受访者认为选址合适,约52%的公众认为仓库的环保措施充分。

但是报告没有说明哪些人参与了问卷调查。现在,许多人质问,发生爆炸的“海瑞国际”如何能够通过环评。