If you saw the TV news reports of the industrial explosions that took place in Tianjin, China on August 13, 2015, then you were as stunned as we were. Estimates were given that the blast was equal to the detonation of 3 tons of TNT.
The resulting deaths of more than 200 people, the ensuing fires and extensive property damage all make this tragic event one of the top industrial catastrophes of all time.
The Chinese government has still to fully report on the causes of the calamity, and as is customary in China, the authorities have been doing their best to “manage” the story.
But those efforts have not been able to squelch the overwhelming impact of this tragedy.
From the first days after the event, accusations of illegal storage and trafficking on a large scale of hazardous materials have been leveled against Rui Hai International Logistics, the operator of the plants involved.
There has also been speculation that first responder firefighters unwittingly abetted the chain of events by creating an unstable acetylene gas reaction from pouring water on stores of calcium carbide.
It remains to be seen whether the violation of laws, laxity in inspection and enforcement, or just plain ignorance — or a combination of all the above — were to blame for the devastation in Tianjin.
Could it happen here?
We in the U.S. might be able to take some solace that our fire suppression education is superior, and that our fire inspection and regulation enforcement processes are more rigorous than many places elsewhere in the world. Yet the tragedy in Tianjin points out just how ever-vigilant our manufacturers and other business owners, along with our regulatory bodies, need to be.
It is indeed a solemn reminder.
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