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close this bookThe Long Road to Recovery: Community Responses to Industrial Disasters (UNU, 1996, 307 p.)
close this folder4 Seveso: A paradoxical classic disaster
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsOverview
Open this folder and view contentsThe European Community's institutional response to Seveso
Open this folder and view contentsThe lessons of Seveso
View the documentConclusion: ''Seveso'' - A paradoxical symbol
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentChronology
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences


1. ICMESA (Industrie Chimiche Mendionali Societzionaria) was originally established in Naples during 1921, but its plant there was destroyed during World War II. In 1946 a new plant was opened in Meda, and the company's name was changed to "Industrie Chimiche Meda Societzionaria" (thereby preserving the old acronym). At the time of the gas release, ICMESA employed 163 people. It was believed that the factory produced intermediatest, - chemicals used in the production of perfumes, flavourings, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. Recently, however, some doubt has been cast on whether production was exclusively in the civilian sector; the Region of Lombardy has set up a commission to investigate this and other obscure aspects of the Seveso case (see Chronology, November 1993). Givaudan SA, one of ICMESA's main customers, became a major shareholder in 1965 and took over the firm entirely four years later. From 1963, Givaudan's parent company was Hoffman-La Roche, a Basle-based multinational group. This group was founded in 1896 as a pharmaceutical concern, transformed in 1919 into a joint stock company, and eventually expanded its activities to include production of chemicals, perfumes, diagnostic instruments, and plant-protection products (Roche Magazin 1986).

2. As shown by the Karin B incident (see below), externalization of waste disposal is not inevitable in Italy or elsewhere.

3. The Flixborough explosion occurred on a rural site and resulted in 28 deaths and 36 injuries among the workforce. Outside the plant, 53 members of the public received major injuries and hundreds more sustained minor injuries. The plant was destroyed and close to two thousand houses, shops, and factories were damaged (Perrow 1984: 111). The legal frame for the implementation of the Seveso Directive in the UK (the so-called CIMAH regulations) is based on acts and actions taken according to the recommendations of the Flixborough accident investigations (Drogaris 1991: 1-2; see also Myers and Read 1992).

4. The Treaty of Paris (1951) established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The first Treaty of Rome (1957) established the European Economic Community (EEC), and the second Treaty of Rome (1957) set up the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). These three treaties, which are the legal basis of the European Community (EC), were originally signed by six countries - the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Ireland joined the Community in 1973; Greece joined in 1981; and Portugal and Spain in 1986. The three original Communities (ECSC, EEC, Euratom) have been governed by a single Commission and a single Council since 1967. The European Parliament (originally called the Assembly) and the Court of Justice have been common to all three communities since 1958. In recent years, there have been moves toward converting what is now an economic union into a political one (e.g. the Maastricht Treaty), and the term European Community has been replaced by European Union.

5. New provisions for issuing and administering EC regulations have come into force since the Seveso Directive was adopted. In 1987, the European Single Act, which had been signed by the 12 Member States in the previous year, came into force, extending the Community's range of competencies and introducing changes in the relationships between EC institutions. In February 1992 the Member States signed the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which "marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen" (Treaty on European Union 1992: Title I Common Provisions, article A). This new treaty substantially revised the Paris and Rome treaties, expanded their provisions on a number of matters, and redefined some of the tasks and relationships of the European institutions. The treaty includes a number of protocols, some establishing special conditions for particular countries.

6. Information that shall be provided to the public now includes the following:

- full identification of the company and person giving the information;
- explanation of industrial activities undertaken;
- names and dangerous characteristics of substances and preparations;
- nature of major accident hazards;
- potential consequences of accidents on people and the physical environment;
- existing safety measures and emergency plans, both on site and off site;
- notice about the ways in which people will be warned and kept informed about accidents;
- guidance about actions that should be taken in the event of an accident;
- location of additional available information.

7. A recent anonymous news report in Science (10 September 1993, 261: 1383) indicates that elevated rates of several types of cancer have been found in the contaminated regions around Seveso. The researcher who uncovered this information intends to release the results of a 20-year follow-up study of Seveso residents that will, it is hoped, shed additional light on these findings. The US Environmental Protection Agency has also issued an extensive review of evidence about dioxin that questions whether cancer is the main associated hazard but suggests that foetal harm and other effects may be much more prevalent. The overall conclusion is that part of dioxin's deadly reputation may no longer be justified but that there is increasing evidence for a "cascade" of non-cancerous health effects in people, possibly connected with trace contaminants in food (New York Times, 11 May 1994).

8. However, their interpretation is not unproblematic; the history of the Hiroshima data is an example of serious re-evaluation of basic parameters (Marshall 1992).