Industrial risk is understood as the possibility that, subsequent to 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.
The Seveso accident
On 10 July 1976, in the Icmesa factory in Meda, Lombardy, a reactor for producing trichlorophenol looses control over the temperature. The opening of the safety valve prevents the reactor from exploding, but the high temperatures bring about changes to the reaction in progress with the formation of a substance later classified as dioxin.
The dioxin released into the air forms a toxic cloud which is moved by the winds towards Cesano Maderno, Desio and Seveso, the district most heavily hit by this accident, one of the worst ever recorded in Europe.
The accident has serious effects on the health of the workers and inhabitants in the area exposed to the toxic cloud: the best part suffering from inflammation to the eyes.
Some people suffer from skin degeneration – the so-called chloracne – and the effects on health in general are still being studied today. The toxic cloud also has repercussions of an environmental nature, contaminating the surrounding area.
International debate on industrial risk
The serious Seveso accident induces 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 poses the industrial risk problem at the centre of international debate.
The first Community directive, better known as Seveso I, is released in 1982. Ratified by Italian law with President of Republic decree n. 175 of 1988 – replaced by decree law n. 334 of 1999 – it validates the directive released by the European Union in 1996.
Decree law n. 238 of 2005 introduces further provisions to guarantee industrial safety in our country, rendering the prescriptions provided by the community directive 2003/105/EC on “Control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances” valid in Italy.