This week, China was the site of two crises, one of them fatal, the other more fatalistic. While Tianjin burned, Shanghai’s stock exchange stumbled, but the industrial horror eclipses the market’s fears.
The port city was engulfed in an apocalyptic explosion at a chemical-product storage site earlier this month, and the death toll has risen in recent days to 135, with more than 580 people hospitalized.
The fallout continues. Thousands of displaced residents don’t know what they’ll return home to—whether the air and water will be safe, and more importantly, whether their neighborhoods will ever be secure. The chemicals blamed for the site, which damaged about 17,000 homes and 170 companies, CNN reports may have been illegally stored. The chemical inventory, according to The Guardian, “included 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide, 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and 500 tonnes of potassium nitrate, none of which should have been stored within 1km of residential property.” Regulators reportedly granted the company, Ruihai Logistics, an operating license two months ago. A 2013 safety inspection showed improper storage of containers, according to Quartz.
One of the only independent monitoring groups, Greenpeace, reports that in addition to Ruighai’s toxics, hazardous chemical storage facilities in other port cities, Shanghai, Ningbo, Guangzhou, and Qingdao are located in violation of the 1-km safety buffer zone for residences and public structures.
With sodium-cyanide contamination exceeding 27 times the safety level, state media reported that rabbits and chickens were being deployed as a kind of living barometer. The ensuing ridicule on social media reflects frustration with the media blackout. Roughly 400 social-media accounts have been shuttered for “spreading rumors.” Although authorities have detained several executives, anti-corruption crackdowns tend to be symbolic at best.