By their nature, the manufacture, storage, and transportation of chemical substances are accidents waiting to happen. Chemicals can be corrosive, toxic, and may react explosively. The impacts of chemical accidents can be deadly, for both human beings and the environment. Reasons behind such disasters range from human errors to the use of outdated equipment and the careless handling of dangerous chemical substances.
One of the deadliest chemical accidents took place in 1984 at a pesticide plant in the state of Medhya Pradesh in central India. On the midnight between December 2nd and 3rd, a combination of factors ranging from hazardous handling of dangerous chemical substances to the use of outdated and malfunctioning industrial equipment led to the exposure of over 500,000 people to toxic gases and byproducts, resulting in nearly 3,800 officially confirmed human deaths.
In September 2001 an explosion occurred in a shed containing about 300 tones of downgraded ammonium nitrate at a chemical plant in Toulouse, belonging to one of France’s leading fertilizer producers. The explosion caused 31 deaths and injured more than 4,500 people, while destroying 27,000 buildings in the area.
In 2005, a disaster at a major petroleum refinery in Texas City, United States, was considered US’ worst industrial disaster in 15 years. A series of explosions took place when a hydrocarbon isomerization unit was restarted and a distillation tower flooded with hydrocarbons. As a result, 15 were killed and another 180 were injured.
In June 1974, near the village of Flixborough in the United Kingdom, took place an event which led to a significant tightening of the UK government’s regulations covering hazardous industrial processes. A locally owned chemical plant, while repairing one of its chemical reactors, produced in less than a minute a leak of 40 tones of cyclohexane, which formed a vapor cloud with a diameter of about 200 m. The cloud exploded and completely destroyed the plant, also damaging about 1,800 buildings on a more than 1,5 km radius.
In February 2000 a poisonous chemical spill that took place in the Romanian city of Baia Mare destroyed wildlife and fish stocks while threatening the water supplies of 2.5 million people all over the Central and Eastern Europe. Approximately 100,000 m3 of cyanide, used in the gold extraction process at a local mine, was released into the river Somes when a reservoir wall at the mine collapsed. The event was described as Europe’s worst disaster since Chernobyl.
The history of modern industry shows that organizations in the chemical business can never be too careful while operating with such substances, nor too quick or well equipped when trying to contain the effects.