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close this bookDisasters Preparedness and Mitigation - Issue No. 56 - October, 1993 (Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) / Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), 1993, 8 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe role of the health sector's disaster management program
View the documentPreparing the health sector for chemical accidents
View the documentNews from PAHO/WHO
View the documentOther organizations
View the documentMember countries
View the documentReview of publications
View the documentUpcoming meetings
View the documentSelected bibliography

Preparing the health sector for chemical accidents

Integral to the process of development in today's societies and certainly to that of industrialization is the production and use of chemicals. They are essential to agricultural production, the control of disease, and for manufacturing processes.


A gas explosion on the outskirts of Mexico City in 19X4 caused the deaths of an ion on the outskirts of Mexico City in 19X4 caused the deaths of an estimated 650 people.

Photo: Guillermo Aldana, Jr.

It is estimated that 40% of commerce in chemical products in developing countries worldwide is taking place in Latin America; 70% of the chemical industry of the Region is concentrated in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico; and 50% of these installations are located in areas of high population density. In association with the acceleration of industrialization, the increasing numbers of accidents during the production process. handling. storage, use and transport of a wide variety of hazardous materials pose enormous health risks to exposed populations.

Speeding up the capacity to respond to chemical accidents. particularly on the part of the health sector. was the focus of a meeting of experts convened in Montevideo from 23 to 25 August. The meeting was attended by experts in the areas of chemical engineering, industrial safety, toxicology, and the management of technological disasters. There were also experts from PAHO/WHO, from the Pan American Center for Human Ecology (ECO), and from the WHO International Program for Chemical Safety (IPCS).

Specific emphasis was given to the proposal by PAHO on strategies to adequately prepare the health sector for chemical accidents. The group prepared a model for the course on technological disasters to be held in Mexico from 15 to 19 November that will be attended by disaster coordinators from the health sector.

Participants showed enthusiasm in cooperating in their respective specialties. They recognized the high level of complexity involved in handling chemical emergencies and the limited existing capacity to do so in most countries of the Region. The experts agreed that support is needed for training activities, information centers on toxicology, and developing national programs in the health sector.

The representative from the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS) discussed WHO's global program on chemical safety and the "INTOX" information system that will provide information on toxicology for developing countries.

Coordination of activities with international agencies such as the United Nations Environment Program's "Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at the Local Level" (APELL), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the WHO Collaborating Center for Chemical Emergencies at the Companhia Estatal de Tecnologia de Saneamento Basico (CETESB), as well as with initiatives such as the Centro de Información Química pare Emergencias (CIQUIME) in Argentina, PROQUIMIC in Brazil, and Asociación Nacional de la Industria Química (ANIQ) in Mexico offer great potential for interagency cooperation.

For more information on the November course, or on another initiatives in this area, please contact Dr. Jose Luis Zeballos, Emergency Preparedness Program, PAHO, 525 23rd St, NW, Washington, D.C. 20037.