While over a hundred are confirmed dead and possibly thousands wounded in the conflagration and shockwave associated with the massive industrial explosions that struck the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin on Aug. 12, Chinese media are reporting that shoddily-built window glass in nearby residential buildings is the cause behind a large number of avoidable casualties.
An insider in the real estate business told Haixia Photography News that many developers cut corners in meeting state regulations. It is an open secret in the industry that windows claimed to be made of safety glass or double-layered glass are often, in fact made of plain materials.
Chinese construction ordinance promulgated starting 2004 stipulates that residences constructed that year and after must use safety glass for sizable windows and in public entrances and lobbies.
Upon impact, safety glass disintegrates into small, relatively harmless pieces, while conventional glass breaks up into dangerous shards. The safety risks went unnoticed until the disaster, which has killed at least 112 people, according to official estimates.
Many lives could have been saved had safety glass been installed in the affected housing blocs, according to Haixia Photography News, which published a photo essay and explanation to its WeChat account. HPN is a subsidiary of the Shangbang Media Group based in Fujian Province. Its WeChat account is not a formal news agency, but acts similarly to one.
The insider told an HPN reporter that while it is possible that some of the buildings in the New Binhai Area, where the blast took place, may have been constructed before the regulation came into effect, this is unlikely since the area was the site of heavy land development beginning only in 2005.
Many of the identified dead are firefighters. Initially dispatched to put out a blaze in the Tianjin harbor area, their efforts are believed to have triggered one or more chemical explosions, the fires from which are still being mopped up by a chemical warfare unit sent from Beijing. Official Chinese figures put the force of the blasts at 24 tons’ equivalent of TNT, but according to Sina, a Chinese online news portal, expert opinion says that the explosion was in fact in excess of 1 kiloton, hundreds of times the official figure.
According to professor Cheng Kang of Wuhan University of Technology’s school of civil engineering and architecture, a 1 kiloton-airburst will shatter glass 1640 feet away. In the Tianjin explosions, even windows located outside a 2,625 feet radius were damaged by the shockwave.
Jia Jia, a widely-read Chinese blogger, wrote in an essay that “Many people who lived near the Tianjin explosions were injured by the flying glass from their shattered windows. But if builders had used secure glass that conformed to safety regulations, these injuries could have been entirely avoided.”
Jia’s essay, entitled “You’ve Got Candles, I’ve Got a Whip,” was later posted on China Change, a website that features translations of Chinese-language texts from independent sources.
On Aug. 16, the state-run Beijing News reported that hundreds of residents in Binhai had gathered to demand compensation from the authorities for their damaged and destroyed property. The area is densely populated and was home to more than 5,600 households located within 3,280 feet of the blast site.