The recovery of toxic materials has begun in earnest at the site of last week’s explosions at a chemical warehouse in China’s port of Tianjin.
The goal is to clear any chemicals found including that of sodium cyanide which has already been detected, before it rains as that could create further toxic gas emissions.
(Sodium cyanide is soluble in water, and absorbs water from air, and its dust is also easy to inhale. When dissolved or burned, it releases the highly poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide.)
An investigation is underway into what triggered Wednesday’s disaster which flattened the area. The number of dead has risen to 112 with 95 still missing, most of them firefighters.
More than 720 people remain in hospital.
On Sunday, China’s Premier Li Keqiang visited the area meeting victims and environmental monitors who are trying to secure the site.
Officials have acknowledged the presence of toxins but claim they pose no threat to people outside a two-kilometre evacuation zone surrounding the blast area.
More than 6,000 people have been displaced by the blasts.
The Chinese government has also ordered officials to make nationwide checks on dangerous chemicals and explosives and to “crack down on illegal activities to ensure safety”.
Meanwhile around 40 family members of those still missing attempted to protest outside the local city hall on Sunday.
Holding banners which said “ give me back my son”, they called on the government for details of their relatives.
Others accuse the government of not supplying sufficient information about what chemicals are at the site.
Fire crews have been criticised for using water to douse the flames which may have contributed to the blasts given the volatile nature of the chemicals involved.
The operators of the Tianjin facility have been accused of violating safety procedures.