Tianjin Port Explosion Tianjin Explosion From Chemical Perspective: Insights and Backgrounds

Author / Editor: Paul Pang and Mark Eramo / Dominik Stephan

The fire and subsequent explosion in Tianjin Port in mid-august is not only one of the worst chemical accidents of the past decade – it also raises important questions about the costs of safety over economic performance. This article tells the story from a chemical perspective, providing you with background information and an outlook on its effects on China's industry.

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(Picture: The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB))

The August 12, 2015 fire at the Tianjin Port container warehouse, which triggered two major explosions in a hazardous material warehouse resulting in nearly 150 killed, almost 700 casualties and 70 others still missing, is the largest incident in China port history.

A Chinese government agency reported that materials stored in the warehouse include calcium carbide, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, ammonia nitrate, sodium cyanide, etc.

Not only are these chemicals hazardous to human health, which requires that they be handled in a specific manner by trained personnel, but several of these chemicals are not intended to be stored in close proximity to one another. Sadly, this incident may have been prevented if existing Chinese safety standards and regulations for chemical storage and handling were followed and enforced.

China Invests Heavily in Chemicals

China is the world’s largest chemical producing and consuming country, including hazardous chemicals. These chemicals are generally used as raw materials in feedstock to make downstream industrial chemicals, and consumer and agricultural products. China’s chemical industry has been growing rapidly for the past 15 years, and the industry’s significant growth rate is not forecasted to slow down anytime soon.

Significant investments are being made in all major basic chemical value-chains at a pace that is significantly greater than any other country in the world, including a comparison to the United States (recently experiencing a rebirth of chemical asset investment due to shale oil and gas).

100 Million Additional Tons of basic Chemicals

Anlysis from market experts IHS Chemical indicates from 2010 to 2020, China will invest in more than 100 million metric tons of basic chemical production capacity including: ethylene, propylene, methanol, paraxylene, benzene and chlorine. By comparison, the United States will add about 30 million metric tons of the same basic chemicals during this period.

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