Industrial processes that require the use of hazardous substances – in case of abnormal conditions or abnormal operation of the plant - can trigger accidents - toxic emissions or energy release - large enough to cause immediate or delayed damage to human health and environment, inside and outside the industrial plant.
Industrial risk is understood as the possibility that, following an accident occurring in an industrial context, a fire will develop, involving flammable substances, explosion, involving explosive substances or a toxic cloud, involving substances releasing themselves in a gaseous state, with effects possibly causing harm to the population or environment. The effects of an industrial accident can be mitigated by implementing appropriate emergency plans, both internal and external. The latter provide measures for self-protection and on how the population should behave.
Effects of an industrial accident can be mitigated by putting into effect appropriate emergency plans, both internal and external. Such plans provide for measures of autoprotection and behaviours for the population.
The Seveso Accident
On 10 July 1976, in the Icmesa factory in Meda, Lombardia, a reactor for the production of trichlorophenol lost control over the temperature. The opening of the safety valve prevented the reactor from exploding, but the high temperatures triggered a change in the ongoing reaction progress with the formation of a substance later classified as dioxin.
The dioxin released into the air formed a toxic cloud moved by the wind towards Cesano Maderno, Desio and Seveso, the municipality most heavily hit by this accident, one of the worst ever recorded in Europe.
The accident had serious effects on the health of the workers and inhabitants in the area exposed to the toxic cloud: the majority of them suffered from inflammation to the eyes.
Some people suffered from skin degeneration – the so-called chloracne – and the effects on health in general are still being studied today. The toxic cloud also had repercussions of an environmental nature, contaminating the surrounding area.
International debate on industrial risk
The Seveso accident induced the European Union to adopt directives aimed at controlling the danger of accidents caused by hazardous substances.
The growing attention to the quality of life and to protect and safeguard the environment posed the industrial risk problem at the centre of international debate.
The first Community directive, better known as Seveso I, was released in 1982. Ratified by Italian law with President of Republic decree no. 175 of 1988 – replaced by decree law no. 334 of 1999 – it validates the directive released by the European Union in 1996.
Decree law no. 238 of 2005 introduced further provisions to guarantee industrial safety in our country, making the prescriptions provided by the community directive 2003/105/EC on “Control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances” valid in Italy.