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HONG KONG -- The warehouse in Tianjin that exploded on Aug. 12 was one of many buildings across China that store toxic chemicals near residential areas or major roads, in violation of safety regulations, according to a review of satellite imagery and public records.

Highways, homes and schools all over China are near warehouses licensed to handle hazardous substances.

According to Chinese officials, the warehouse in Tianjin, a major port city, stored at least 700 tons of one common deadly chemical, sodium cyanide, used in mining to separate gold and silver from rock.

After the deadly explosions, residents of Tianjin have been gripped by fear and uncertainty over the presence of toxic chemicals in the city's air and water, setting off a national debate about hidden safety hazards along the supply route for sodium cyanide. On Saturday, Chinese state media reported another explosion at a chemical plant in the eastern province of Shandong, according to The Associated Press. No casualties were immediately reported.

Chinese regulations forbid facilities with hazardous chemicals to operate less than 1,093 yards from public buildings and major roads.

An accident at such a storage site could be disastrous. The blasts in Tianjin killed 121 people, injured hundreds more and turned the surroundings into wasteland. Another 54 people remain missing, the city government said Saturday.

Experts said some of the sodium cyanide might have combined with water to form a toxic vapor. Technicians have detected levels of cyanide as much as 356 times the safe level within a 1.8-mile-radius of the evacuated area, although no abnormal contamination was found outside the area.

Thousands of dead fish washed up on a riverbank near the site of the explosions last week. White foam filled the streets during the first rain shower after the blasts. Residents and relatives of those killed have taken to the streets in protest, demanding to know how a hazardous storage site could be so close to their homes.

The sodium cyanide stored at the warehouse originated from a factory 200 miles west of Tianjin. Chinese news media reported a foul smell in the air near the factory, and residents said they had found white foam in the groundwater.

The company, Hebei Chengxin, is one of the largest makers of the toxic substance in Asia. Its sprawling facility is close to a primary school with up to 700 students and staff members. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

The plant's apparent violation of the distance rules reflects China's difficulties in enforcing safety standards during a time of rapid industrialization. In May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued draft guidelines for improving environmental protection in industrial parks, noting that some had "expanded recklessly."

On Friday, Greenpeace said it had identified warehouses for hazardous chemicals at four other major port cities: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Ningbo and Qingdao. All are near residential areas.

Several other facilities across China that produce or store sodium cyanide and other hazardous chemicals appear to violate distance regulations, putting nearby residents at risk of toxic exposure.

Sodium cyanide was only one of the chemicals stored at the warehouse in Tianjin, owned by Rui Hai International Logistics. But it is remarkably lethal: A quarter of a teaspoon, if ingested, will kill an adult in a few minutes.

Officials have not explained why the warehouse was allowed just 2,000 feet from a high-rise apartment complex. Residents said they had no idea that the warehouse posed a risk.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Vanessa Piao, Crystal Tse, Derek Watkins, Wilson Andrews and Matthew Bloch of The New York Times and by staff members of the Associated Press.

A Section on 08/23/2015

Print Headline: Records: China warehouses near schools store chemicals

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