The colossal explosions in the Chinese city of Tianjin have killed dozens — but many residents fear the worst may be yet to come.
On Thursday — a day after the the two blasts — officials recorded toxins in the air that can cause damage to the central nervous system, heart trouble and even death.
Many residents kept their windows and doors shut throughout the day after the city's Environmental Protection Bureau said it detected the harmful solvents toluene and chloroform in the air, according to Reuters.
Toluene is used in everything from nail polish to industrial processes and can be deadly if ingested in large quantities. It can cause damage to the central nervous system, depression, cardiac arrhythmia and death, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Chloroform, another solvent, can also be deadly — but only at far higher levels than reportedly recorded in Tianjin.
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The Beijing News also reported that there had been a trace of cyanide detected in ditches near the blast site. However, when asked about this at a press conference, the city's environmental chief Wen Wurui appeared to avoid the question.
In an apparent attempt to reassure Tianjin's 8 million inhabitants, Wen, the environmental chief, said there was "no marked impact" on the quality of the air around the blast zone.
Chinese authorities been tightly controlling information around the blasts — the causes of which remained unclear 24 hours later.
Police said the first sign of fire occurred at a warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics — a company which says it stores hazardous materials including flammable petrochemicals, sodium cyanide and toluene diisocyanate.
More than 200 Chinese army personnel specializing in handling nuclear and biochemical materials were drafted into Tianjin, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported, while ugly gray smoke continued to billow Thursday over the industrial area where the blasts where centered a night earlier.
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Local English teacher Drew Chovanc complained that officials were leaving residents in the dark about potential dangers from toxins in the air.
"They haven’t been clear on whether it’s safe to stay in the city," said Chovanc, a 25-year-old American who has been living in China for two years. "They don’t want to cause a panic, I guess?"