Animals in cages were put at the blast scene in order to detect the presence of chemicals, authorities said.

Story highlights

Caged animals were placed by authorities in the center of the blast zone for chemical testing

Local residents are fearful of chemical contamination

Death toll has risen to 129 people

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Caged rabbits, chickens and pigeons placed in the heart of the Tianjin blast zone by Chinese authorities to test for chemical exposure have drawn a mix of ire and ridicule on Chinese social media, as pressure builds for authorities to answer for the deadly blast that devastated the northeastern port city earlier this month.

According to a weekend tweet by the state-run People’s Daily, the animals were placed in a “core” area of Tianjin to test for possible “chemical remains.”

The move comes after images emerged last week of a large number of dead, rotting fish washed up in a local river, fueling local residents’ fears over possible chemical contamination.

“Why not put those ‘un-corrupt’ experts and officials to do some testing?” one Weibo user asked.

“Should drag the people responsible over to it,” posted another.

While some expressed their pity for the animals saying “this is not humane” others were more angry, deriding what information, if any, such animal testing could provide.

One user weighed in: “Abnormal doll-sized heads and cancer villages aren’t going to appear overnight.”

Another user posted: “Turns out you can’t abandon these traditional ways of testing. These esteemed science and technological methods aren’t so confident.”

Death toll rises

Meanwhile, the death toll from blasts that rocked the northern Chinese city has risen to 129, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, citing information from a Sunday press conference.

Among the victims were 70 firefighters and seven police officers, Xinhua reported. Forty four people are still missing after the fatal blasts earlier this month, which were followed by fires.

More than 600 people are still hospitalized, 39 of those in serious condition.

The August 12 blasts occurred at a warehouse, where more than 700 tons of highly toxic substances, mainly sodium cyanide, were being stored.

The explosions affected a huge swath of the city: 17,000 homes damaged, more than 170 companies affected and 3,000 cars destroyed.

Three fires reported last week were at the core of the explosion site, while a fourth was at an automobile distribution center nearby and could have been caused by a burning fuel tank, Xinhua said.