Seveso Disaster

The Seveso disaster was an industrial accident that occurred around 12:37 pm July 10, 1976, in a small chemical manufacturing plant approximately 15 km north of Milan in the Lombardy region in Italy.

It resulted in the highest known exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in residential populations which gave rise to numerous scientific studies and standardized industrial safety regulations. The EU industrial safety regulations are known as the Seveso II Directive.

The Seveso disaster was so named because Seveso was the community most affected. Seveso is a small town with a population of 17,000 in 1976. Other affected neighbouring communities were Meda (19,000), Desio (33,000), Cesano Maderno (34,000) and to a lesser extent Barlassina (6,000) and Bovisio-Masciago (11,000). The industrial plant, located in Meda, was owned by the company ICMESA (Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria), a subsidiary of Givaudan which in turn was a subsidiary of Hoffmann-La Roche (Roche Group). The factory building had been built many years earlier and the local population did not perceive it as a potential source of danger. Moreover, although several exposures of populations to dioxins had occurred before, mostly in industrial accidents, they were of a more limited scale.

Around midday on Saturday 10 July 1976, an explosion occurred in a TCP (2,4,5-trichlorophenol) reactor of the ICMESA chemical plant on the outskirts of Meda, a small town about 20 kilometres north of Milan, Italy.1 A toxic cloud containing TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), then widely believed to be one of the most toxic man-made chemicals (Mocarelli et al. 1991), was accidentally released into the atmosphere. The dioxin cloud contaminated a densely populated area about six kilometres long and one kilometre wide, lying downwind from the site (fig. 4.1). This event became internationally known as the Seveso disaster, after the name of a neighbouring municipality that was most severely affected (Hay 1982; Pocchiari, Silano, and Zapponi 1987)