Eleven weeks after the enormous toxic chemical explosions at the port of Tianjin in China, US authorities say no ships arriving from there have shown signs of contamination or any other negative effects.
USCG spokesperson Alana Ingram told Splash247: “The US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began monitoring all vessel traffic and cargo departing the port complex in Tianjin following the tragic explosions on August 12 and 15 due to concerns that there may be potentially hazardous ash, debris or residues on vessels or cargo bound for US ports.
“This included any vessel that was in the Tianjin port complex, or that had loaded cargo or containers that were in the Tianjin port complex, at the time of the first explosion on August 12 through August 15.”
August 12 saw the initial two huge explosions, which happened in relatively quick succession and which were big enough to register as seismic shocks. On August 15 there were eight more blasts of a smaller nature in the port complex, which is about 105 miles from Beijing.
The eruptions and subsequent fires killed 173 people, with 8 missing and 797 injured according to the official Chinese casualty report on 12 September. There was a huge crater at the site along with vast areas of damage reminiscent of wartime aerial bombardment. Thousands of new cars parked in lots at the port were burned out and some buildings in the area were deemed structurally unsafe afterwards.
“We have not received any reports of illness or suspected contamination,” said Ingram of crew members on Tianjin-connected vessels. “US law requires the owner, agent, master, operator, or person in charge of a vessel to immediately notify the nearest Coast Guard Sector whenever there is a hazardous condition aboard the vessel. An ill person on board or an unknown substance or hazardous ash, debris or residue may be indicative of a hazardous condition and should be reported.
“The first vessel arriving in the US was the Denmark-flagged Cornelia Maersk carrying cargo from Tianjin, which arrived at the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach on 29 August. The vessel was not in Tianjin following the explosions there; however, it did pick up cargo from Tianjin in a Korean port prior to making the voyage to the US.
“Federal Interagency representatives concluded that conducting external sampling of all 39 potentially impacted containers would be a prudent public health measure. The test results concluded there were no contaminants present on the containers.”
The interagency parties, other than USCG and CBP, included Departments of State (DoS), Defence (DoD), Transportation (DoT), Commerce (DoC), Homeland Security (HS), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The second potentially impacted ship to arrive in Los Angeles-Long Beach was the Hong Kong-flagged Cosco Indonesia (101,200 dwt, built 2010) on September 2. It too was evaluated by the Coast Guard and CBP, Ingram said.
“We also closely monitored and evaluated four other potentially impacted vessels that called on US ports. None reported any illness or contamination.”
Emphasizing that no contamination has been found, Ingram continued: “Out of an overabundance of caution, wipe samples were collected from the Cornelia Maersk containers and of the comparison containers, which were provided by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) in Los Angeles/Long Beach for evaluation. The samples were free of any contaminates.
“Sampling protocol for the Cornelia Maersk was developed in partnership with a variety of interagency partners. A number of factors can influence the interagency response to a potentially impacted vessel, such as in this case: the location of the vessel or cargo within the port of Tianjin during the time window of concern; whether or not any cargo bays, holds, or external doors were open; and whether any persons onboard have been experiencing any ill-health effects subsequent to the explosions for unknown reasons, or due to exposure to substances from the explosions.
“A whole-of-government approach was developed from the Maritime Operational Threat Response process in which the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) tailored a specific sampling protocol for Tianjin-impacted containers. The Coast Guard ensured a contracted lab followed that testing protocol.”
The fact that no potential Tianjin-impacted vessels have shown any signs of contamination is not altogether unexpected, Ingram said.
“An interagency science group, which included CDC, EPA, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and more, determined, given the known chemicals, none would have survived the blast with the exception of possibly cyanide salts.
“Likely the salts would not have survived the transit and exposure to the elements. The testing we’ve done was an extra measure of due diligence and out of an abundance of caution.
“Based on our current assessment from the joint-science team, there doesn’t appear to be any continuing threat from the Tianjin explosions to the global supply chain. However, we will continue to monitor the situation with our interagency partners and respond accordingly.”