Tianjin is the fourth largest city in China with about 14 million folks. It is hard by Beijing and is the the port city for the capital.
The city’s population would be a bit higher if not for the explosions that took place at a chemical storage facility in 2015. We all recall the blast in Beirut a few years ago but the ones in China were nearly as big and just as inevitable. There were actually a series of nine explosions and because they blew over two days, people took off running. Still, 173 people died with most of them being firefighters and police.
Many more folks were injured due to the after effects from the amazing variety and enormous quantities of malignant chemicals released. The list includes calcium carbide, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrite, ammonia nitrite and a big helping of sodium cyanide. There were 40-some other hazardous chemicals stored in the facility as well. As all this was detonating the firefighters showed up and hosed the joint down with water. This caused the sodium to explode in a massive fireball and that’s when the firefighters were killed. The water also reacted with the calcium carbide, creating acetylene and the hits kept on coming.
In all, 304 buildings, 12,428 cars, and 7,533 shipping containers were destroyed. Of course the facility was gone and the clean-up was massive. The damage came to about eight billion USD. That’s not counting the loss of ‘face.’ Forty-nine of those faces went to prison and at least one was sentenced to “death with parole.” This is an ironic phrase that means that if the convicted person doesn’t blow the prison up during the first two years of confinement the sentence would be knocked down to life without parole.
In the United States we don’t send executives to jail for public disasters that happen under their watch because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people. This is as absurd as terms like ‘Peacekeeper missile, or ex-president T’s Truth Social. ( Truth Social’s mission statement : “Truth Social is America’s ‘Big Tent’ social media platform that encourages an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.”) In any case a corporation can’t go to jail and the big ones often don’t pay taxes. So not people, like you and me.
In China, in Lebanon and in most countries corporate profits are often the top priority and safety is secondary. The United States does a pretty good job with preventing this sort of thing. In fact, we hear how terrible our roads and bridges are and how our power grid is kaput and the dams are all about to burst. But I get around a lot and I believe that this is greatly exaggerated.
One thing to keep in mind is that many very modern countries like Japan and Germany came into their own with a great deal of new stuff after having had their infrastructures decimated in WWII. In America, we have inherited a good deal of legacy infrastructure from the past. Finland, Norway and Iceland are considered very advanced but in the 1950s and 60s these were very low key places. Sweden was known back then mainly for its spindly wooden furniture, meatballs and pornography.
People in China really wanted to know the facts about the Tianjin disaster, but China has an enormous agency that mediates the media and the government censors erase what is found to be ‘unproductive.’ Amnesty International estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 are employed in this effort over at least a dozen agencies. Some sites claim the ‘black pen people’ number at least a million. In the US there are approximately zero people in government agencies doing this job. Here, you can still stand on a street corner and yell that the president’s a jerk. Hey, let’s go with our wins when we get em.
Not that everything works perfectly in the USA. I believe that some things have been made too safe. Take U.S. airline companies. In the last 20 years, in a full sized jet, only six people have died and only one due to a crash. If cars were made this safe they would cost a million dollars each and you would need months of training to drive them. I’m not advocating for more plane crashes (or am I?) but I think flotation devices and instructions how to use them seems a bit silly.” In case of a water landing…” Humm, landing; one time on the Hudson as I recall (and they didn’t go in the water).
But back to blowing stuff up. San Diegans had a nifty show a few years back. It was great entertainment and no one was injured, though someone’s pride surely suffered.
This happened in San Diego Harbor in 2012. There were four barges anchored in the water and there was to be an elaborate 17 minute synchronized show. It was slated to be one of the biggest displays ever. It turned out to be THE biggest. It seemed that someone (I’m not pointing fingers) programmed the computer wrong. Probably mistranslated meters from feet or something. In any case, they did put on a stupendous show even if it only lasted about 30 seconds because the whole shebang went up at once.
At the other end of the scale are indoor, table-top fireworks. It’s an English thing. These you can light them off in the house while having a nice cup of tea. My wife, Margaret, who is British, once brought back one of these masterful creations. There were snakes and tiny flaming spinners, a volcano and several fizzy whatits. The scale was massively tiny and we sat very close and pretended we were giants.
Of course some explosions happen at fireworks factories (saving shipping costs for sure) and these are generally pretty spectacular. The Chinese invented the fireworks and have always been the biggest producer of them. The fireworks industry is by many measures fairly modest. Just $2.5 billion worldwide in 2021. By contrast the Halloween industry is around $8 billion with $450 million spent each year on pet costumes alone and this is just in the U.S.
So what’s the takeaway here? I think it’s that big, uncontrolled city-leveling explosions are bad for the locals. Explosions in fireworks factories are ironic and quite funny if no one is hurt.
And table top fireworks are just pitiful as they nail home the fact that this once great empire has now declined to such an extent that they are reduced to watching tiny pyrotechnics on rickety Formica tables while playing scratchy Beatles LPs. Yeah, yeah, yeah!