Chinese regulations forbid facilities with hazardous chemicals to operate less than one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) from public buildings and major roads.
The consequences of an accident at such a storage site can be disastrous. The blasts in Tianjin killed over 100 people, injured hundreds more and turned the surroundings into wasteland. Experts said it was possible that some of the sodium cyanide had combined with water to form a toxic vapor.
The plant’s apparent violation of distance rules reflects China’s difficulties in enforcing safety standards during a time of rapid industrialization. In May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued draft guidelines for improving environmental protection in industrial parks, noting that some had “expanded recklessly.” Such parks “create serious pollution and severe environmental hazards that are affecting social harmony and stability,” the guidelines warned.
The bolded part makes a strong assumption–that the government is actually trying to enforce the standards. All the evidence of the past 10-20 years points to the dominance of crony capitalism in China. The only time that the government takes action, such as here, is when they’re forced to by circumstances and public opinion. At some point the anger from the people might become so strong that the situation changes, as it did in the US in the first part of the 20th century, but it hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t appear to be imminent.