A deadly combo: What chemicals were at the site of the Tianjin blast?

A deadly combo: What chemicals were at the site of the Tianjin blast?

Here's what Chinese authorities have found so far on the potent mix of chemicals involved in the Tianjin explosions


Chloroform stored in jars
Photo: Wikicommons


Ammonium nitrate crystals
Photo: Wikicommons


Potassium nitrate produces flames as it is exposed to icing sugar
Photo: Wikicommons

Chinese authorities are trying to find out what potent mix of chemicals caused the explosions in Tianjin on August 13, and what other chemicals may have been released during the disaster. The explosions, which killed at least 114 people, took place at a dangerous goods warehouse used by Ruihai International Logistics.

Chemicals that authorities have said to be potentially stored in the warehouse include:


Containers of sodium cyanide
Photo: Wikicommons

Sodium cyanide

Produces the highly poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide when dissolved or burned, and was used in executions in America. It is highly toxic if inhaled or ingested, flammable and can cause asphyxiation. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, burning sensations, sore throat, convulsions, and unconsciousness. If this isn't sufficiently cleaned up and there's rain, the rain could also spread chemicals on the ground into the air when it evaporates.

Its dust is easy to inhale and it is also soluble in water, raising concerns that it may have contaminated drain water.

Sodium nitrate. Looks harmless, but it isn't.
Photo: Wikicommons

Potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate
Can cause explosions with toxic fumes if exposed to reducing agents. Symptoms include coughing, skin and eye irritation, dizziness, confusion, abdominal pain, breathing problems, convulsions, diarrhoea, nausea, unconsciousness, and blue lips, fingernails or skin.

Ammonium nitrate
Can amplify the combustion of other substances with toxic fumes. Symptoms include coughing, sore throat, headaches, irritation to skin and eyes, abdominal pain, convulsions, diarrhoeia, dizziness, vomiting and blue fingernails or lips.

Rain fell on the remains of the Tianjin blast site. This makes it much more difficult to clean up the deadly chemicals

Chemicals detected in the air the morning after the explosion include:


Very flammable. It can affect the nervous system, and cause confusion, memory loss, nausea, anxiety, loss of hearing/colour/vision/appetite, damages to kidneys and liver, and unconsciousness.

Toluene with sodium benzophenone
Photo: Wikicommons

Can produce toxic flames when heated, as well as explosions. Symptoms from exposure include irritation, dizziness, confusion, abdominal pain, vomiting, liver and kidney damage, and can also affect the nervous system.

Ethylene Oxide

Extremely flammable. It can cause drowsiness, coughing, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, dry skin, blisters and frostbites (on contact with liquid). Long term symptoms include asthma, heritable genetic damage and nervous system damage.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Symptoms include dizziness, headaches, loss of vision/memory/coordination, allergic skin reaction, and eye and breathing problems. It can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and the central nervous system.

Chemicals detected in Tianjin’s underground drainage were:


The effects depends on the compound, but symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing and heart rate, convulsions, unconsciousness, low blood pressure, lung injury and respiratory failure. 


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