Tianjin's environment chief refutes nerve gas reports

In the core blast zone of Tianjin, animals are raised in cages for testing the impact of the surrounding environment on living creatures. Photo: Sino-US.com

A local environment chief on Wednesday afternoon denied reports that deadly nerve gas has been detected in the blast zone of the northern Chinese city of Tianjin where the massive chemical warehouse explosions have claimed 114 lives with 64 still missing.

"I have noticed the reports related to the nerve gas, but I believe that it is impossible for neurotoxins to be created under the circumstances. We did not find such toxic substances in the air during the monitoring," Wen Wurui, head of Tianjin's environmental protection bureau, told reporters at a regular news briefing.

Neurotoxins are 10 times more poisonous than sodium cyanide, whose detection near the blast site has led to evacuations of residents living within a 3-kilometer radius of the blast center, and could kill a person by jumbling the nervous system and stopping the heart and respiration.

At 4:00 am on August 13, Tianjin's environmental authorities launched an emergency air quality monitoring scheme, according to which a total of 17 air quality monitoring points are established outside the isolated blast site.

"The air monitoring results show that the concentration of pollutants detected on August 13 is relatively higher than usual, with volatile organic compounds reaching a concentration level that is 1.5 times higher than national standard. But after August 13, the concentration of pollutants that are caused by the explosions is on a declining curve," Wu said, adding that the pollutants detected will not greatly impact the health of human body.

At the news briefing, the environment official assured residents of a transparent and timely access to the air quality information, as Tianjin's environmental authorities have started  reporting the air quality monitoring results to the public once every two hours starting from Tuesday morning.

Outside the hotel where the news briefing was held, hundreds of residents from residential developments adjacent to the blast site held a protest, urging the local government to buy back their damaged houses, whose windows were all shattered by last week's blasts.

Some property owners carried banners reading "we do not want to be lab mice", "buy back our houses" and "decry pollution, want the truth" outside the hotel, with some holding the photos of their beloved family members killed in the disaster.

A protester surnamed Huang told Sino-US.com reporters Wang Lingyu and Zhang Han, "Many of us have children, so we are afraid that the hazardous chemical residuum caused by the explosions would contaminate the soil and water near our residential communities. We must keep our kids far away from the dangerous place."

In the afternoon of Wednesday, our reporters visited the pungent scent-filled core blast zone, where an air quality inspector who requested anonymity told them that the air there has not posed a remarkable threat to human body currently.

In the core blast zone, our reporters saw several iron-made cages for rabbits, chickens and pigeons, which are said to be raised for testing the impact of the surrounding environment on living creatures. A researcher who refused to give his name said that the observation of the animals in recent days indicates that the air in the blast zone is not lethal.

Wang Lingyu and Zhang Han contributed to this story.

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