Last Thursday, as my ayi and I were tag teaming hanging some laundry to dry, something on the horizon caught my eye.
I did a double take.
Thick, black, smoke was headed our direction from about two miles away.
I tapped Liu on the back and pointed in the direction of the smoke. "Huǒ", she says, obviously meaning "fire". We stood on the balcony for a good twenty minutes, amazed at this plume of smoke slowly taking over the New District sky. It was eerie. Finally, she cups her ear and motions for me to listen....The sound of fire trucks finally filled the air. Seriously, twenty minutes before we heard a single siren.
Relieved that the fire would be put out, we went back to our business, occasionally checking on the smokey sky. I texted Nick to tell him about the fire, and he said he was on his way home, and had actually just passed by the factory and it was still burning.
Through NZ's assistant, we got notifications that the Chinese officials were broadcasting to the public. We were told that we should close all windows, stay inside and turn off our AC units until the smoke cleared. Common sense, right?
As the evening progressed, we started hearing rumors.
The thick plume of smoke?
Chemicals as a result of a semiconductor plant explosion.
Semiconductor plants do a lot of etching. The chemical used to do such a job is hydrofluoric acid. Anyone who's seen the tv show "breaking bad" would remember that that's what Jesse poured over the drug distributor's dead body in his bathtub, which ultimately ate through the tub and sent it through the ceiling to the floor below. Yeah, that shhht's nasty. And highly toxic. 60% concentration will kill you. A small burn (5%) can kill you.
NZ and I paced around our apartment that evening after learning that the smoke was actually Hf. What should we do? Can we get out of dodge? Where would we go? Is the danger of smoke inhalation as dangerous as direct contact? Would we wake Sal and call our driver to take us to SuZhou? Mind you, its about 10:00p and we know our driver is probably half a bottle of baiju deep. He'd be too drunk to drive anywhere. I decide to go to bed and NZ stayed up to wait for morning time to hit in California. He wanted to consult with a few people who may have better knowledge of Hf and the dangers of burning Hf.
Ultimately, we stayed the night, but everyone agreed that it was dangerous.
We woke up to rain the next day.
Rain is good, right?
Well, when residual Hf is in the air, and rain is brought into the picture, not so much. Supposedly there was a danger of Hf then contacting skin through rainfall, which is super scary. Some people evacuated out of fear, others stayed home and inside, and some went on like there was no danger at all.
We did leave for Shanghai (I had an appointment) and some safety. I think we both felt better about it.
We've since returned and life is back to normal.
I'll be happy if we never have to go through that again.