The Seveso Italy Dioxin Accident


The Seveso incident amounts to an industrial accident whose occurrence prevailed nearly 12.37 pm on 10th July 1976. This disaster occurred in a minute chemical manufacturing factory almost 25 km northwards from Milan, in Italy’s Lombardy region. The Seveso disaster yielded the highest, so far, known exposure to an underlying residential population notably to 2, 3, 7, 8-Tetrachlorodibenxo-p-dioxin (TCDD). The naming of Seveso disaster emanated from Seveso, which had a 17,000 population in 1976 and was the community that encountered the severe effects. The disaster further affected the neighboring communities like Desio (33,000), Barlassina (6,000), Meda (19,000), Bovisio-Masciago (11,000), and Cesano Maderno (34,000) (Alberto, 2001). The incident prevailed in the factory’s building B wherein 2, 4, 5-trichlorophenol was generated from 1, 2, 4, 5-tetrachlorobenzene notably by the prevalent nucleophilic aromatic substitution reaction involving sodium hydroxide. The former chemical was deployed as an intermediate accruing to hexachlorophene. 

The reaction should occur at a temperature exceeding the one attainable utilizing the typical process utilities dominating the plant. It was thus decided to deploy the plant’s exhaust steam emanating from the site electricity generation turbine, after which it should pass via an exterior heating coil fitted on the plant’s chemical reactor gadget. Safety experiments depicted commencement of an exothermic reaction once the reaction temperature reached a value of 230oC (Lallanilla, 2017). Critically, there was no any steam temperature reading availed to the plant operators obligatory for the underlying reactor.

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The chemical-release incident prevailed once an interruption occurred on a batch process before termination of the ultimate step – ejection of ethylene glycol notably from the underlying reaction mixture via distillation, following conformance with the Italian law that necessitates the shutdown of factory operations during the weekends. The opening of the relief valve initiated release of nearly 6 tons of the underlying chemicals (of which TCDD was 1 kg) that spread into more than 18 square kilometers of the nearby area. Some of the immediate effects of TCDD include chloracne, skin lesions, and or rather skin inflammation (Bertazzi et al., s2001). Nevertheless, two governmental commissions were set up to generate a plan for decontaminating and quarantining the affected region wherein the Italian government fairly allotted forty billion lire (nearly US $47.8 million), an amount that was further tripled two calendars later to facilitate effective decontamination of the entire influenced area. Furthermore, dioxin also yields other effects like peripheral neuropathy as well as liver enzyme induction. In addition to that, dioxin is also carcinogenic to individuals besides having linkage with endocrine and cardiovascular. Nevertheless, a condition of having a low sperm count is evident for the born children whose mothers were pregnant during the time of the disaster (Bertazzi et al., 2001). 

Moreover, regarding cleanup functions, in 1977 January, an action plan involving a scientific analysis, medical monitoring, decontamination (restoration), and economic aid was completed. Additionally, the Italian government, in 1979, increased its special loan notably from forty to one-hundred and fifteen billion lire to facilitate compensation of the affected families. The passage of industrial safety regulations in the prominent European Community occurred in 1982 – the Seveso Directive (Alberto, 2006). This regulation imposed more strict industrial regulations. This Directive later encountered an update in 1996 besides being updated further in 2002 and 2012 yet currently is called the COMAH Regulations fairly in the UK or rather the Seveso III Directive. Finally, epidemiological monitoring plans were set as indicated by their termination dates in the following list – malformations (1982), chloracne sufferers (1985), abortions (1982), deaths (1997), tumors (1997), and health tracking of personnel at ICMESA and decontamination projects. 

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  1. Alberto, B.P. (2006). The Seveso Accident: A Prototype of Environmental Epidemiology Challenge. Epidemiology, Vol. 17 (6): S82. 
  2. Bertazzi, A.P., Consonni, D., Bachetti, S., Rubagotti, M., Baccarelli, A., Zocchetti, C. & Pesatori, A.C. (2001). Health Effects of Dioxin Exposure: A 20-Year Mortality Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 153 (11): 1031-1044. Doi: 10.1093/aje/153.11.1031. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from 
  3. Lallanilla, M. (2017). Briefing: The Seveso Disaster. Retrieved from         
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