Overheated nitrocellulose ignited to set off Tianjin explosion

The scene of the explosion in Tianjin. Credit: Imaginechina/AP

The scene of the explosion in Tianjin. Credit: Imaginechina/AP

Chinese officials released on Feb. 5 a report into a 2015 explosion at a hazardous materials warehouse in Tianjin that killed 165 people. C&EN’s Jean-François Tremblay reports:

The immediate cause of the accident was the spontaneous ignition of overly dry nitrocellulose stored in a container that overheated, according to the report, issued on Feb. 5. Wetting agents inside the container had evaporated in the summer heat, investigators found. Flames from that initial fire reached nearby ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which exploded. …

Investigators found that Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics, the operator of the warehouse, illegally stored hazardous materials and that its “safety management procedures were inept.” It also assigned varying degrees of blame to 74 government officials from agencies at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Some officials, investigators found, were guilty of “taking bribes and abusing power.”

To prevent a similar catastrophe, investigators issued a list of recommendations, including the creation of a national system for monitoring hazardous chemicals storage. They also recommended that firefighters be better equipped. First responders accounted for 110 of the dead.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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