Tianjin’s Residents Fear Cyanide Has Polluted City’s Water As Thousands Of Fish Wash Ashore, Dead

Residents of the Chinese city of Tianjin gathered at the banks of the Haihe River to take pictures of thousands upon thousands of dead fish. The culprit may be cyanide.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Wang Lei, 47, told the New York Times as he surveyed the grim scene. “There has to be a link between the dead fish and the blast. What else could explain the death of so many?”

Questions linger in Tianjin, where, one week ago, a warehouse packed with hazardous chemicals exploded. Now, people there are wondering how safe the water and air really are, and no one has many answers, BBC News added.

When the Tianjin warehouse exploded on August 12, it may have contained 700 tons of highly toxic materials, most of which is sodium cyanide, CNN reported. One hundred people were killed in the blast and 65 are still missing; 17,000 homes were destroyed.

According to the Times the wastewater runoff from the explosion site — in the same district as the Haihe River — contained hundreds of times more cyanide than the law allows. Meanwhile, state news agency Xinhua has told the public that authorities haven’t detected cyanide in the water and are blaming the massive fish die-off on other factors.

Authorities insist that such die-offs usually occur in the summer, when oxygen levels drop and the fish, therefore, fall victim to hypoxia. While officials haven’t suggested this is what caused this week’s disturbing sight at the Haihe River, they are steering clear of blaming it on cyanide.

“Cyanide pollution is severe inside the warning zone. Outside the zone overall, the amount of cyanide detected is at normal range,” Ministry of Environmental Protection official Tian Weiyong told CNN.

Nonetheless, Tianjin’s citizens are left wondering if the dead fish signal that the cyanide from the warehouse has spread to the water. Many are unsure just how safe their city is in the days after the explosion. People are posting their concerns online.

“It smelled strange when it rained yesterday. And I’ve been coughing for days. If the reports are true that there is nerve gas here, I’ll wear a mask.”

Another warned, “Everyone living in Tianjin should avoid tap water. Even if they say the pollutants have been contained, better safe than sorry.”

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As officials now begin cleaning up the site and neutralizing the chemicals contained there, including cyanide — a process that could take three months — there has been little information about what was stored inside the Tianjin warehouse.

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Because the man in charge of warehouse logistics is severely injured and can’t talk, no one knows what exactly had been stored there — and authorities may never know. What is certain is that the company illegally stored chemicals too close to apartment houses, highways, and public buildings, the Times added.

The United Nation’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, is keeping a close eye on Tianjin.

“The lack of information when needed — information that could have mitigated or perhaps even prevented this disaster — is truly tragic. Moreover, the reported restrictions on public access to health and safety information and freedom of the press in the aftermath are deeply disturbing, particularly to the extent it risks increasing the number of victims of this disaster.”

[Photo Courtesy ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images]