This is the chemical that Chinese authorities are trying to protect Tianjin survivors from

Burnt out Volkswagens near the site of the massive blast in Tianjin, China. Picture Getty Images

It been confirmed by Chinese authorities that 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide has been detected at two locations of the Tianjin blast zone.

The Australian reports that the 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide is 70 times the amount that factories are meant to hold.

In Australia, sodium cyanide is used by the gold mining industry to extract the mineral and other metals such as silver, copper and zinc from the earth. 98% of Australia’s gold production is dependent on it, according to Chemlink.

Overseas the chemical is also used in metal plating and chemical applications such as dyes and pharmaceuticals.

Sodium cyanide can form a flammable gas upon contact with water and because of this its use is strictly regulated by governments.

However, Ruihai International Logistics, the chem­ical importing and exporting storage facility believed to have been the source of the blasts, has had discrepancies exposed in its accounts and customs records since the explosions.

If the amount is correct, several hundred tonnes would be a clear violation of the warehouse’s maximum storage of 10 tonnes at a time.

A military team of 217 chemical and nuclear experts have been deployed to deal with the situation.

Because of the chemical’s volatility with water there is a fear that rain could cause another reaction at the site, creating a potentially toxic airborne gas.

Despite this local authorities have repeatedly sought to reassure the public, insisting that the air in Tianjin is safe to breathe.

Eric Liu, a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said that without precise data on the quantities involved in the blast, it was impossible to predict how serious these reactions could be.

The environmental campaign group has also tested surface water for cyanide at four locations in the city and had not detected high levels of the chemical.

See photos of the impact zone here.

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