A Closer Look at the Tianjin Explosions and Chemical Logistics

We would like to begin this post by saying that our thoughts go out to those affected by the Tianjin explosions, today is definitely a more somber topic but we feel that bringing light to these events might help prevent future occurrences and prepare companies to mitigate risk and such tragedies in the future.

A little over a week ago, over a hundred people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in a series of massive explosions. The first explosion measured a magnitude of 2.3, equivalent to three tons of TNT. This was followed by eight more secondary explosions as fires raged over the following days.
Explosions occurred at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin which is located in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin, China.
A Quartz article has a description of Ruihai International Logistics, the warehouse in which the explosions started,
The explosions took place in a warehouse of Ruihai International Logistics at Dongjiang port, whichaccounted for 70% (link in Chinese) of the “hazardous goods” shipments in Tianjin last year. A company website, no longer working, said the firm was established in 2011 and is licensed to transport hazardous goods. It has 70 employees, posts annual revenue of over 30 million yuan ($4.7 million), and can handle about 1 million tons of cargo a year.
Source: BBC World Asia
Along with the hundreds of people killed and/or injured, the explosions also:
Caused the buildings of seven more logistics companies to be destroyed
Incinerated over eight thousand cars from Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, Renault, and Toyota
Damaged apartment buildings located up to 2 km away from the site and,
Led to sodium cyanide (an incredibly toxic material) leakage being reported in the sewers
The Safety Precautions at the Ruihai Logistics (or Lack Thereof)
An article published last year from InboundLogistics.com explored the business of storing, transporting, and safe-guarding dangerous chemicals and products.
The guiding philosophy for representatives of the North American 3PLs they visited could be summed up with “safe and secure from start to end”.
The people interviewed spoke about how every facet of chemical warehouses, from design to operation, was designed with the type of chemicals they’d be handling in mind.
Each chemical carries unique storage requirements, so safety protocols and conditions vary from product to product. For example, some chemicals must be stored in temperature-controlled rooms, while others shouldn’t be stored next to one another because the vapors can interact and cause problems such as harmful fumes.
From the investigations into the Tianjin tragedy, this attention to accountability wasn’t given importance in the Ruihai facilities.
From the earlier Quartz article:
In March 2014, the Tianjin government held an emergency drill (link in Chinese) on highly toxic and hazardous chemicals at Ruihai International Logistics. A government inspection between November and December 2013 reported that five of the more than 4,300 containers on site were improperly encased(link in Chinese)
There also reports that dangerous chemicals were handled without a license.
The investigations have also exposed other warehouses in the Tianjin area that are also in violation of China’s law stating that warehouses storing dangerous chemicals need to be at least “1km from public places, transport networks and residential communities”.
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