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October 5, 2011

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MEPs want more Seveso site inspections

The EU’s Environment Committee has called on the European Commission to update accident-prevention rules for dangerous-substance sites, including improved chemical classifications, clearer information for the public, and more frequent site inspections.

MEPs voted 52 to 3 in favour of updating the Seveso Directive, which was implemented in 1982 following an accident six years earlier at a pesticides plant in the Italian town of the same name.

Seveso II, as it is currently known, is implemented in the UK by the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH). Across the EU, the Directive covers around 10,000 sites, which must have in place accident-prevention and response plans. Around 20 to 30 incidents are reported to the European Commission every year.

The proposal update takes account of new UN-agreed international classifications of substances, which are intended to allow for better risk evaluation and handling of substances.

Although the update will not significantly change the number of sites that fall under the rules, those that do could be subject to tighter enforcement, as MEPs want inspections to be carried out at least every three years, and at least once a year for higher-risk sites. While some Seveso sites already meet these rules under the Industrial Emissions Directive, others would be inspected more often if the changes are passed.

The Environment Committee is also calling for the public to have access to clear information about local sites on the internet. Hungarian MEP Janós Áder, who is steering the legislation through Parliament, commented: “The publication of adequate information on how the population concerned will be warned and kept informed in the event of a major accident, as well as what action they should take, is a major step forward.

“The aim is to provide essential information in an easily understandable form to interested citizens, while respecting national security concerns and the legitimate confidentiality of businesses.”

The Committee’s vote comes a year after the red-sludge disaster at an industrial plant in Hungary. Commenting on what lessons the EU has learnt from the incident, Áder said: “We realise, with regret, that the EU currently has no financial instruments at its disposal to provide effective and immediate damage control when industrial catastrophes occur. I believe that the EU needs a safety network, an effective insurance framework, and we have to open discussions on this issue as soon as possible.”

MEPs are also calling on the European Commission to examine whether the scope of the Seveso Directive should be extended in future – for example, to include offshore oil exploration, pipelines and certain nanomaterials.

An article on the potential impact of the proposed new Seveso Directive, ‘A serious mandate’, was published in the April 2011 issue of SHP.

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