Journalists and residents around the Tianjin blast site in China were affected by skin burns after heavy rains hit the Binhai New Area on Tuesday.
Officials asked residents to keep away from the area, amid fears that the water could trigger chemical reactions with toxic substances at the site, particularly the several tons of poisonous sodium cyanide that cover the grounds.
As the rains hit the area, strange white foam appeared on highways near the site of the explosion. A Caixin journalist reported experiencing burns on the arms and lips after exposing himself to the rain.
A volunteer aid worker posted on Weibo that exposing herself to the rain caused a stinging feeling on her skin, which also turned her arms red.
According to Tencent’s news website, similar symptoms were reported by other volunteers and journalists. Rinsing with water relieved the pain and stinging.
Despite the reports of acid rain environmental authorities of Tianjin said that air and water were still at safe levels.
More than 3,000 tons of chemicals, including 700 tons of the highly toxic sodium cyanide were in the warehouse where the two explosions took place last Wednesday.
The director of Tianjin’s environmental monitoring centre, Deng Xiaowen, said there had been no flux in the quality of air at 17 observation spots after the rain.
According to Deng, the ‘strange’ foam was “a normal phenomenon when rain falls, and similar things have occurred before.”
Fears persisted over the 700 tons of the toxic sodium cyanide that were at the center of the explosion site. The chemical reacts violently with water producing a highly toxic gas known as hydrogen cyanide gas.
According to Bao Jingling, chief engineer of Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau, sewage treatment had been enhanced in the region, and only properly treated water would be distributed.
There would be special treatment for any cyanide contamination, he said, and the quality of air would be strictly scrutinized with the public informed immediately if the pollution went above the acceptable levels.
He was quoted by Caijing magazine saying that “the best way is to stay far away from the site, there is no other way.”
Residents are now becoming more vocal about the disaster and living in a toxic wasteland yet remain strangely positive.
A property holder whose house was destroyed in the explosion took part in an outdoor demonstration in the rain, demanding reimbursement. “Our homes have been destroyed, what more should we fear?” asked property owner.