China blast death toll rises to 121 as probe widens

SHANGHAI - China's powerful State Council, or cabinet, has vowed to conduct a "rigorous" investigation into the cause of last week's explosions in the northern port city of Tianjin as the death toll rose to 121, state media reported on Saturday.

The government will publish the findings of the investigation, which it pledged would be timely and accurate, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The explosions at a hazardous goods storage facility on August 12 triggered a giant fireball and new fires broke out as recent as Friday.

The death toll rose to 121 on Saturday, up from a figure of 116 the previous day. Some 54 people remain missing, Xinhua said in a separate report.

Residents and others have questioned how hazardous chemicals could have been stored close to residential areas.

The owners of the hazardous goods storage company at the centre of the incident, Rui Hai International Logistics, reportedly included the son of a former police chief who used his connections to help the firm obtain the necessary permits and pass inspections.

The blasts have also sparked fears of toxic pollutants contaminating the air and water of the city, which has a population of around 15 million people.

Thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals were stored at the site, officials have said, including about 700 tonnes of highly poisonous sodium cyanide, a white powder or crystal which can give off lethal hydrogen cyanide gas.

The Tianjin environmental protection bureau said that only one out of its 18 air samples had found presence of the gas on Saturday.

The environmental bureau said on Thursday that cyanide levels of more than 350 times standard limits have been detected in water close to the site, but gave no updated figures on Saturday.