Prevention of Accidents

The overall safety of industrial activities is of the utmost importance. Production processes involving chemicals that, should something ever go wrong, could have a devastating and tragic effect on local communities must be properly and effectively regulated. To reduce the risk of such accidents ever occurring the EEB demands the highest standards of protection and planning for all industrial activities. 

The Seveso III Directive (2012/18/EU) provides the legal basis for the prevention and control of major accidents involving dangerous chemicals. The directive was revised mainly because of changes in the classification of chemicals and is the third revision following “lessons learned” from fatal disasters in industrial sectors in Europe and beyond. The Seveso III framework applies to more than 10,000 establishments where dangerous substances can be used or are stored above the volume thresholds, mainly the (petro)chemical, logistics and metal refining sectors. In most cases there is an overlap Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) regulated activities therefore major accidents prevention issues are relevant for certain BREF reviews.

Every time an industrial accident happens society faces severe consequences and high costs to deal with them. In 1976 an explosion occurred at the ICMESA chemical plant located close to Seveso, Italy producing intermediate compounds for the chemicals industry including the herbicide 2,4,5 trichlorophenol (TCP). It was actually just an “impurity” of the production process that created all the deadly damage i.e. 2,3,7,8 tetracholorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), commonly referred to as “Dioxin”. Within days about 3,300 animals (mostly rabbits and poultry) were found dead and about 80,000 animals had to be slaughtered to prevent TCDD spreading through the food chain. Pregnant women in the area were advised to undergo abortions because of the risk posed to developing foetuses. A major cleanup followed, involving the removal of a 14cm thick layer of toxic soil that had to be disposed of in special waste treatment facilities. The total amount of contaminated material was estimated to be in the region of 280,000m³.

An EU response came six years later with the adoption of the first Seveso Directive 82/501/CEE on 24 June 1982. The Bhopal disaster (1984, India), which is often cited as the world’s worst major accident known to date, follow just two years later. Around 32 tons of the toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide Corporation (DOW) pesticide factory. Official figures show that 5,000 people were killed as a direct result of this release. The 5,000 deaths figure has been widely questioned and Greenpeace has established that at least 20,000 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster. Even this figure fails to consider the estimated 150,000 victims that suffered, or in many cases still suffer, from directly-related chronic health problems such as psychological, neurological disabilities, cancer and birth defects. More information about The Bhopal Medical Appeal continues to campaign for the disasters victims, their website contains more information about the events that took place. 

After the Sandoz accident (1986, Switzerland), that contaminated the Rhine with dangerous chemicals leading to the death of millions of fish, policy makers were triggered to amend and expanded the framework further. The Baia Mare cyanide spill (2000, Romania) killed 80% of all aquatic life in certain areas and contaminated the drinking water supply of over 2.5 million people. Another more recent example in the extractive industries was the The Kolontár Red Mud disaster (2010, Hungary) where a tailing pond of high amount of toxic sludge from alumina production broke and flooded the surrounding area. These activities are covered in the Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries (MWEI BREF).

The explosion of a fertilizer manufacturing factory in Toulouse (2001, France) killed 30 people and injured 10,000 according to official figures. Overall costs for the material loss was estimated at about €2.5 billion. Even industrial accidents which do not result in any human casualties, like the fire in a glues and resins factory in Haguenau (2000, France), resulted in economic losses of more than €15 million. The explosion and fire in an oil storage facility in Buncefield (2005, UK) injured 43 people and led to overall costs of more than €1 billion. “Luckily” the blast happened on a Sunday morning at 6:00 am, where no workers were present.

The evaluations conducted by the European Commission for the review of the Seveso II Directive considered that the current framework has been instrumental in reducing the likelihood and consequences of major accidents. However, the EEA found that during the past decades the overall number of incidents remained stable with about 28 accidents each year - see page 114 of the EEA report: "Mapping the impacts of natural hazards and technological accidents in Europe". Furthermore, the statistics do not show a complete picture because many industrial accidents, occurring in the transportation of dangerous substances, are excluded from the scope.

The review leading to the Seveso III Directive was launched in 2008. The EEB was the only eNGO involved in the preparatory work that led to the new proposal. Due to limited resources the EEB was only partially involved and represented by experts in the “technical work” in ISPRA which discussed options on scope adaptation to the CLP classification system of dangerous substances. A stakeholder consultation meeting was held in Brussels on 10 November 2009. Written comments from around 50 industry lobby organisations and the EEB were made. Overall industry wanted to continue “business as usual”.

For more information on the Seveso III Directive please see the following:

The major accidents mentioned above took place as a result of industrial activities covered by the scope of the BREF documents. The majority of IED installations, which are also covered under the Seveso III framework, are (petro-)chemical installations, biocides, pesticides and fertilisers production, processing of metals and in general storage of dangerous substances on sites etc. Certain activities, such as waste management from extractive industries are also covered by the BREF developed under the Mining Waste Directive (MWEI BREF).

Under the IED framework, the adoption of measures for the prevention of accidents and for the limitation of their consequences is part of the general principles governing the basic obligations of the operator (IED Article 11). It lays down a requirement that “the necessary measures are taken to prevent accidents and limit their consequences”.

Plant operators have to include such measures when applying for a permit for their activities. The IED explicitly requires the prevention of environmental impacts from any “substances and mixtures which have proved to possess carcinogenic or mutagenic properties which may affect in or via the aquatic environment”, “persistent hydrocarbons and persistent and bio-accumulable organic toxic substances, cyanides, metals and compounds, biocides and pesticides, organohalogens etc”. It is therefore an open non-exhaustive list of pollutant groups. EEB considers this to refer to the relevant substances that meet any of the properties of a Substance of Very High Concern as per Article 57 of the REACH Regulation - see [Pollutants of Concern].

One of the basic BAT criteria is to use “less hazardous substances” (point 2 of Annex III) and the “need to prevent or reduce to a minimum the overall impact of the emissions on the environment and the risks to it”. The same requirement is found in the essential criteria for determining BAT, stating that there is a need to prevent accidents and to minimize the consequences for the environment (point 11 of Annex II of the IED). The [BREF review rules] confirm that issues regarding environmental accident prevention and the identification of techniques that will prevent or limit consequences of accidents and incidents have to be addressed.

Member states shall also take into account the risk of accidents in the different industrial sectors when setting up systems / programmes of environmental inspections, including the frequency of site visits.

The EEB has advocated in the Seveso III Directive review, and in all BREF reviews where dangerous substances are used or produced, that better synergies with substitution objectives of dangerous substances and BAT need to be made to promote cleaner and safer industrial production. This includes the following elements for the operators of Seveso III establishments:

  • Obligation to fully apply best available techniques (BAT) as set under the Industrial Emissions Directive
  • An obligation to regularly perform independent safety studies
  • An obligation for producers to prevent or reduce the presence of dangerous substances, including through their elimination or substitution via design changes, materials or components which would not require any of the materials or substances. The elaboration and implementation of a “substitution plan” as required under REACH authorisation for producers of these dangerous substances should be promoted
  • Minimal specifications of all the relevant hazards that need to be considered (operational hazards, human/organisational aspects, external hazards including effects of climate change, cumulative effects )

During the review of the Seveso III Directive with the European Parliament, the EEB secured that Member States “shall ensure that the establishment operates according to best available techniques, in particular in relation to safety aspects, pursuant to Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control), without any derogations.

A further amendment was introduced through Annex II point 3b. This required the installation and operating measures to be “in accordance with Best Available Techniques” pursuant to the IED.

The EEB aimed to ensure that Seveso establishments operate according to BAT as stated under the reference documents at all times. The exceptions, or ‘derogations’, granted under to plants under the IED if the use of certain techniques would lead to disproportionate costs, should never be allowed in relation to BAT safety aspects. High costs for operators should not be an acceptable excuse for avoiding the implementation of risk prevention techniques.

Regrettably, Member States and the European Commission were radically opposed to this requirement, which they considered as an extension of the IED scope and undermining of the derogation clause via the backdoor of Seveso III. The final text now only refers to “best practices”, which has no legal meaning.

This is a sad example of government and European Commission incoherence. On one hand they argue for the need to strengthen the application of BAT to create a level playing field, on the other, when it comes to high-risk activities involving dangerous substances, it is a step too far.

Successful substitution of dangerous substances as a risk prevention measure should be incorporated in the BREFs, in particular for the purpose of ambitious implementation of the relevant Seveso III Directive provisions, such as the Major Accidents Prevention Policy and the elaboration of Safety Reports.

The EEB's briefing and position paper on the Seveso III Directive proposal (2011)

Unfortunately, these crucial issues have been completely overlooked. This is even more regrettable because the revised Seveso III Directive still requires the operator to implement “best practices” (another word for BAT).

Relevant BREFs currently under review are the following:

  • Surface Treatment using organic Solvents [(STS BREF)]
  • (Hazardous) Waste Treatment (WT BREF)
  • (Hazardous) Waste Incineration (WI BREF)
  • Other Chemical BREFs, such as the [LVOC BREF)]
  • Management of Waste from Extractive Industries (MWEI BREF)
  • Emissions from Storage [(ESF BREF).]

The EEB advocates for dedicated BAT conclusions which focus on techniques which are most effective in the prevention of environmental accidents and, where this is not possible, for the decrease of their frequency and the minimisation of any impacts related to their occurrence and effects. A key factor for achieving this is to promote the substitution at source of use and production of Substances of (Very High) Concern (see Substances of Concern page) as the most effective risk prevention strategy.

Considering recent experience in BREF reviews we would seek to get the following information:

  • Information on BAT on accidents prevention/management for the different IED-regulated industrial sectors, with focus on the sectors of: Surface treatment with organic solvents, Wood preservation with chemicals, Organic chemicals production, Waste treatment including (co-)incineration (hazardous waste handling) and coal (and lignite) mining as well as information contained in the Emissions From Storage BREF [(EFS BREF)];
  • If sector with relevance to the Seveso Directive, provision of relevant information included in the safety reports (Seveso III Directive, Annex II point 3 b) / and Major Accidents Prevention Policy (MAPP) as well as safety distances;
  • Case studies in IED activities which demonstrate successful substitution of dangerous substances (or reduction in volumes) as a risk prevention strategy without negative cross-media effects (examples should relate to SIN 2.0 list of chemicals likely to be banned or restricted in the future);
  • WT BREF: provisions linked to safety measures and gas detectors e.g. for HCN or H2S in case of waste oxidation/reduction (BAT 77), as well as provisions concerning electrostatic and flammability hazards in case of waste fuel production from hazardous waste (BAT 121);
  • WI BREF: good practice examples of BAT 10: elements to be taken into account for the development of a plan for the prevention, detection and control of fire hazards and additional BAT on input quality control / storage / segregation of wastes require the operator to have sufficient knowledge of waste (chemical and physical) properties and handle the different streams according to risk assessment results.

Please provide information to or submit information anonymously via the contact page.