There was panic on the streets of Leshan, Sichuan province on Thursday after a leak at a chemical plant sparked a mass exodus.
As information about the incident diffused across social media, residents of the southwest China city fled their homes in cars, on bicycles and whatever else they could find to get away from what they thought was impending doom.
A person on Weibo – China’s Twitter-like platform – said they had seen “thick white fog” emanating from the plant in the city’s Wutongqiao district since Wednesday night.
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Local authorities sought to allay people’s concerns on Friday, saying they had conducted an investigation and that no toxic chemicals had been detected in the air.
However, they said a small amount of hydrogen chloride gas had been emitted on Thursday morning from a factory that produces polysilicon.
The leak happened when the plant’s exhaust gas treatment system malfunctioned after losing its water and electricity supply, they said.
Despite the government’s efforts to reassure the public, not everyone was convinced.
The Weibo user who said they had seen the fog described the government’s suggestion there were only traces of chemicals in the air as “bulls***”.
Another presented a more scientific argument.
“Upon contact with water, hydrogen chloride forms hydrochloric acid, a strong acid,” the person said.
“How can it be harmless to the human body? And how much is ‘a small amount’?”
Wutongqiao is home to more than 60 large-scale chemical companies and is also one of China’s top 10 production bases for raw materials.
China has experienced many disasters linked to its chemicals industry. In March last year, 78 people were killed and more than 600 hurt by an explosion at a chemical plant in Jiangsu province. In 2015, 173 people were killed when 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide exploded at a chemical plant in Tianjin.
The chemical leak is not the only problem to have hit Leshan in recent days.
On Tuesday, police and volunteers joined forces to protect the city’s giant Buddha statue from being submerged as the Yangtze River once again burst its banks.
Rescuers piled sandbags around the 71 metre (233 feet) tall icon as floodwater rose above its toes for the first time in more than 70 years, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Chemical leak causes panic in Chinese city, but government says there’s nothing to worry about first appeared on South China Morning Post