Worries have arisen about the safety of mainland produce after an industry body revealed that up to 7 percent of Hong Kong’s vegetable imports come from the northern port city of Tianjin, which was hit by a deadly series of chemical explosions last week.

An estimated 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide was stored in the Ruihai International Logistics warehouses where the blasts occurred, according to Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News.

Licensed to store just 10 tonnes of the highly toxic compound, the warehouses’ load amounts to 70 times more than what the company was legally permitted to store.

tianjin crater
Tianjin crater. Photo: Xinhua.

Cyanide was also detected in port waters near the blast site, the State Oceanic Administration said on Monday. The Port of Tianjin, the largest in north China and fourth-largest worldwide by throughput tonnage, restarted full operations earlier that morning.

According to Hong Kong Imported Vegetable Whole Merchants’ Association chairman Yuen Cheung, 6 to 7 percent of Hong Kong’s vegetable imports originate from the affected area.

Spokespeople for both Park N Shop and Wellcome supermarkets told HKFP that none of the chains’ imported produce comes from Tianjin. However, concerns still persist over the safety of marketplace imports from the affected region.

Wanchai Market
Wanchai Market. Photo: Wikicommons.

News of the vegetables’ potential repercussions in Hong Kong comes as more oversights are revealed in the Chinese government’s implementation of safety standards.

In December 2011, the government introduced Regulations on the Safe Management of Hazardous Chemicals in China. Greenpeace East Asia has noted, however, that existing legislation such as this proved insufficient to prevent last week’s explosion or to minimise the human cost.

With no precise distance between chemical storage facilities and residential areas specified in the regulations, apartment blocks were situated a perilously short 560 meters from warehouses where the blasts occurred.

Although the chemicals should have been closely monitored by at least four government agencies—namely port authorities, the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Public Security and State Administration of Work Safety—the fact that local authorities still cannot identify exact chemical names or quantities suggests that supervision has been “fragmented and inefficient,” according to the NGO.

NOAA-HYSPLIT model, using atmospheric data to predict wind direction. The different colours in the image below indicate different times at which the calculations were begun. The Meters AGL chart indicates the vertical movement of air. Photo: Greenpeace East Asia.

Air pollution from the explosions is expected to spread north-east over the breadbasket provinces of the Manchurian Plain, although it is hoped that pollutants will be diffused by the wind and driven to higher levels of the atmosphere.

Ryan Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others