By Roberto Guana
On 10 October 2017, the JRC’s Major Accident Hazards Bureau (MAHB) presented to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the results on its study of chemical incidents which have been reported in the media throughout the world between 1 October 2016 and 30 September 2017. This study is a new JRC initiative to provide evidence of the importance of chemical accident risk management in order to support ongoing government actions to reduce these risks. The OECD greatly welcomed the visibility that the analysis brings to chemical accident risk. Loss of awareness constantly threatens to lead to loss of attention, undermining the significant risk reduction achieved over the past two decades. The study also serves to provide another baseline for measuring progress in reducing chemical accident risks in line with the UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030).
As part of the study, MAHB compiled a total of 667 chemical incidents reported in the media, identified through the JRC’s European Media Monitor (http://emm.newsbrief.eu) news briefs dedicated to the topic. The largest number of accidents occurred in the oil and gas industries (279), followed by those in chemical processing sites (183). Accidents in non-chemical industries were almost as high (143), despite often dealing with much lower volumes of substances. (This category covers a wide range of industries, such as food and beverage production, warehouses, and waste management facilities that often lack competence in chemicals risk management). Approximately 15% of the accidents reported were judged to be major accidents, on the basis of applying the European Gravity Scale (developed by Amendola et al., 1994) to information available in the media report. While OECD countries accounted for around 60% of the accidents reported, they were responsible for less than 10% of total fatalities (59) reported. Chemical accidents occurring in non-OECD countries were reported to have cost 478 lives, nearly half of which (219) were in one devastating accident involving a petrol tanker explosion in Pakistan on 25 June 2017. Some of the results of the JRC study are summarized in the figures on the right.
While many of the accidents reported in the study did not result in loss of life, they often involved serious injuries, significant damage to property and environment, and major social and economic disruptions (e.g. community evacuations, power outages, job losses, etc.). The impacts on human health from numerous natech (natural hazard triggering technological disasters) chemical releases caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, USA, during September 2017, are not yet fully known, and some may only become apparent over a longer period of time. In its next annual study, the JRC will include more statistics on these kinds of impacts.