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Seveso Disaster - 43 years on

The Seveso industrial accident that occurred 43 years ago today on July 10, 1976, in a chemical manufacturing plant approximately 12 miles north of Milan.

It resulted in the highest known exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in residential populations, and ultimately led to standardised safety regulations across the EU known as the Seveso II Directive. In the UK they were implemented as the COMAH Regulations.

A chemical reaction led to the release of a highly toxic cloud which hit the local populations. Within days, 3,300 animals, mostly poultry and rabbits, were dead. Emergency slaughtering commenced to prevent TCDD from entering the food chain, and by 1978 over 80,000 animals had been slaughtered. 15 children were quickly hospitalised with skin inflammation. By the end of August, 1,600 people in the town of Seveso had been examined and 447 were found to suffer from skin lesions or chloracne.

In the years that followed numerous studies found increased levels of lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue neoplasms and increased breast cancer.

The male children of mothers who were, during pregnancy of those children, exposed to high levels of toxic dioxins during the disaster, were found to have lower-than-average sperm counts.

In the UK, The Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) was introduced to reduce the risks of potential major accidents that are associated with the handling of hazardous substances. There are approximately 10,000 industrial units in the UK covered by the regulations. Stringent controls and planning are in place to ensure accidents like Seveso never happen again.

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