Where are the 1,300 Seveso sites located in France, and what are the risks? (2023)

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The Seveso Directive classifies hazardous industrial establishments into two thresholds, high and low, depending on the quantity of hazardous material.


Published on August 03, 2022 at 5:36 p.m., modified on August 03, 2022 at 6:19 p.m.

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An explosion took place on Wednesday August 3 in a blowing snow in Bergerac (Dordogne), classified Seveso “high threshold”, injuring eight people, including one seriously. What is this classification?

Read also: In Bergerac, eight injured after explosions in a Seveso classified site, the fire on site is “under control”

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What does the Seveso classification correspond to?

After a serious leak in an Italian chemical plant near the town of Seveso in 1976, which had caused major ecological and health pollution, a series of European directives were adopted to identify industrial sites which present risks and to ensure better prevention.

In France, there are approximately 500,000 industrial or agricultural facilities that may pose risks to the environment (pollution, nuisances), safety or health, 50,000 of which are subject to an authorization or registration system. But only the most dangerous establishments are classified Seveso.

The last version,Seveso 3, entered into force in France in 2015. According to data from theMinister of the Environment, France had 1,301 Seveso facilities at the end of 2020, classified into two types: 692 “high threshold” and 609 “low threshold” facilities, depending on the quantity of hazardous materials present. These can be refineries, chemical plants, oil depots or explosives depots.

Where are the Seveso establishments located in France?

The geographical distribution of these facilities is the result of two centuries of industrial development linked to the major settlement areas: the Paris basin and the course of the Seine as far as Rouen, the Lille conurbation, Lyon and the Rhône valley, as well as the region of Marseille and the Etang de Berre.

According to data dating back to 2019, approximately2.5 million peoplelive within one kilometer of a Seveso-classified facility (including 1.1 million for “high threshold” sites) and 663,500 within 500 meters (277,000 for “high threshold” sites).

Seveso sites close to major cities

Number of Seveso classified sites,
by municipality in 2019





Population density by municipality in 2016,
in number of inhabitants per square kilometer

More than 250

From 100 to 250

From 50 to 100

Under 50

How common are accidents related to Seveso sites?

The explosion of the AZF factory in Toulouse on September 21, 2001, which caused the death of 31 people, as well as more than 2,500 injuries, is the most serious accident to have occurred in France. More recently, in 2019, an explosion occurred at the Lubrizol factory in Rouen. In total, there have been seven major accidents (which have reached severity level 6) since 2000.

The most important industrial accidents in France for twenty years

Level 6 accidents (human, environmental or economic) on the European industrial accident scale

  • June 18, 2001 – Fire in a paper mill in Venizel (Aisne)
    A zone in the shape of a 30° cone of 2.5 kilometers is placed under surveillance with a ban on the consumption of vegetable production, following the fire of electrical transformers and the combustion of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins.
  • September 21, 2001 – Explosion in the AZF fertilizer factory in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)
    The violent explosion of a stock of ammonium nitrate caused the death of 31 people and injured more than 2,500.
  • November 28, 2003 – Noroxo site in Harnes (Pas-de-Calais)
    A wave of legionellosis spread from the air-cooling towers of the petrochemical plant causing 83 victims, including 18 fatal cases.
  • March 16, 2008 – Refinery in Donges (Loire-Atlantique)
    A leak (1500 cubic meters of fuel oil) on a refinery transfer pipe caused a major spillage in the Loire estuary. More than 750 people are mobilized for three and a half months to clean up 90 kilometers of soiled banks.
  • July 23, 2012 – Oril pharmaceutical factory in Bolbec (Seine-Maritime)
    Pollution of the water table by nitrosamines (a potentially carcinogenic substance) from the plant was detected. More than 20,000 inhabitants of 17 municipalities are invited to no longer consume tap water for food purposes until the end of the following month.
  • March 6, 2017 – Arkema chemical plant in Saint-Auban (Alpes-Maritimes)
    The significant presence of bromates (carcinogenic substance) was detected in the Durance and a drinking water catchment in Villeneuve, coming from a discharge from the factory. Measures to restrict the use of water and the distribution of bottles have been put in place.
  • September 26, 2019 – Lubrizol in Rouen
    A major fire occurs in a storage site of the lubricant factory or the neighboring site hosting the Normandie Logistique warehouses. The fire quickly grew; it burns more than 9,000 tons of chemicals and a thick plume of black smoke extends over more than 22 kilometers, causing strong odors and soot fallout more than 100 kilometers away. Containment measures and school closures are put in place, as well as restrictions on agricultural products. No deaths or injuries are to be deplored.

According to'inventoryof the Ministry of Ecological Transition on technological incidents and accidents, accident rates were down in 2020 – a year marked by two confinements and activity restrictions – with 74 accidents in Seveso facilities, compared to 79 in 2019 and 106 in 2018 Most incidents have limited human, environmental or economic consequences (ranked 0 or 1 in the table below).

Serious accidents rare, but not non-existent

Industrial accidents are recorded in the ARIA database and are classified for each of their impacts on aeuropean scalefrom 0 to 6, level 0 corresponding to no consequences, level 6 to maximum consequences.
The consequences of the AZF accident make it a level 6 accident in human terms (31 dead and 2&nbsp500 injured), level 6 in economic terms (661 million euros of estimated economic consequences) and level 2 from an environmental point of view.

Evolution of the number of accidents occurring in Seveso classified sites, according to severity and type of consequences:

Read also: AZF, twenty years later: where is the industrial risk in France?

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What is a Seveso site? ›

What are Seveso sites? Seveso Sites are defined as Industrial sites that, because of the presence of dangerous substances in sufficient quantities, are regulated under Council Directives 96/82/ECand 2003/105/EC , commonly referred to as the Seveso II Directive.

What happened in the Seveso disaster? ›

In July 1976, a chemical plant explosion near Seveso, Italy exposed locals to the highest known levels of 2,3,7,8-tetracholorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD or dioxin) exposure to a residential population (Mocarelli 2001; Pesatori and Bertazzi 2012).

How could the Seveso disaster be prevented? ›

Set up preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance helps to increase the level of safety and efficiency of industrial equipment. Implementing and planning a preventive maintenance strategy reduces the risk of leaks or explosions at Seveso sites.

What is the history of the Seveso directive? ›

Its primary objectives were to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances and limit the possible consequences of such accidents for human health and the environment. Subsequent incidents led to amendments to the Seveso Directive, and Seveso II (Directive 96/82/EC) was eventually adopted on 9 December 1996.

How many people died in the Seveso disaster? ›

Icmesa produced Trichlorophenol, which is used to produce the disinfectant Hexachlorophene. The company was located in four communes; one of them Seveso. None of the 20,000 people who lived in Seveso died, but the poison killed 3,000 farm animals and pets.

What is the primary goal of the Seveso directives in Europe? ›

It aims to control major accident hazards involving dangerous substances, especially chemicals and contributes to the technological disaster risk reduction effort.

What are the causes of Seveso accident? ›

According to Doctor Uehara's "the cause of the Seveso accident", 190 °C overheated steam was used as a heat medium for distillation to prevent the process temperature rising above 180 °C. According to "Loss Prevention", 300 °C steam was supplied during the accident due to a low load of the steam turbine.

How did the Seveso disaster affect the environment? ›

An unforeseeable accident on July 10, 1976, in Seveso, Italy, led to an environmental contamination with caustic reaction products and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Original contamination of vegetation was in the order of O. 5 ppm TCDD.

How long did it take to clean up the Seveso disaster? ›

Remaining houses were decontaminated, furniture replaced and thousands of trees replanted. The debris was buried in two large tunnels beneath what would become the Bosco delle Querce, but it was not until six years after the disaster that clean-up of the plant itself was completed.

Who cleaned up the Seveso disaster? ›

The local government, in coordinated efforts with ICMESA, embarked on cleaning up the contaminated area. These efforts were a true success, and by April 1984, decontamination of Zone A was complete.

What is a major accident hazard? ›

A Major Accident Hazard is a source of danger that has the potential to cause a major incident, whether that involves multiple fatalities and/or significant damage to plant, equipment or the environment. Managing Major Accident Hazards is vital to safe operations.

What are the most common ways to reduce disaster risk? ›

Reducing exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improving preparedness and early warning for adverse events are all examples of disaster risk reduction.

How did the Seveso disaster affect humans? ›

An excess mortality rate from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases was uncovered, and excess of diabetes cases was also found. Results of cancer incidence and mortality follow-up showed an increased occurrence of cancer of the gastrointestinal sites and of the lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue.

How did the Seveso disaster affect animals? ›

About 37,000 people are believed to have been exposed to the chemicals, according to researchers familiar with the case. Approximately 4 percent of local farm animals died, and those that didn't -- roughly 80,000 animals -- were killed to prevent contamination from filtering up the food chain.

Who was responsible for the Seveso dioxin cloud? ›

Twenty-five years ago, one of the Western world's worst chemical disasters took place in Seveso, near Milan, Italy. A toxic cloud laced with chlorine and dioxin escaped from a factory owned by an affiliate of the Swiss multinational, Roche.

What was the Seveso runaway reaction? ›

In the Seveso disaster, the reactor safety disk broke because of an increase in temperature and pressure in the reactor due to an exothermic side reaction. The bursting of the container resulted in the release of a large quantity of dioxins into the atmosphere.

What is an upper tier Seveso site? ›

Upper-tier establishments (type II) are establishments where the amount of dangerous substances is equal to or exceeds the high qualifying quantity.

Do people live in Seveso? ›

The territory of the commume is highly urbanised, with the majority of inhabitants living in the town.

What is the meaning of Seveso? ›

Seveso. / (sɛˈveɪsəʊ) / noun. a town in N Italy, near Milan: evacuated in 1976 after contamination by a poisonous cloud of dioxin gas released from a factory.

What are the five effect of environmental disaster? ›

These disasters result in disruption through damage to property, physical injury and death, psychological distress, displacement of individuals and families, and prolonged disruption to a broad range of services upon which communities rely.

What was the Seveso disaster for kids? ›

The Seveso disaster was a chemical accident on 10 July 1976, at the small Italian town of Meda, 20 km from Milan in Lombardy. There was an explosion at a chemical factory which released a lot of the toxic poison dioxin, TCDD, into the air. The cloud of poison gas covered an area 6 km long and 1 km wide.

What are the effects of environmental disasters? ›

A natural disaster can lead to the loss of life or property damage. Other catastrophes, such as wildfires, floods and tornadoes, can completely defoliate forests and cause ecosystems to experience other forms of structural changes.

Who cleans up environmental disasters? ›

EPA develops procedures and methods to contain and mitigate contamination and to remediate the environment following public health and environmental incidents and disasters.

What are 90% of accidents caused by? ›

Several other studies have produced similar results, and every study that we know of shows that the percentage of car accidents that are caused by human error is at least 90%.

What is the most common type of fatal accident? ›

When looking at collisions between motor vehicles, angle collisions cause the greatest number of deaths (about 9,000 in 2021). The interactive chart also shows the estimated number of deaths, injuries, fatal crashes, injury crashes, and all crashes for various types of motor-vehicle crashes.

What types of accidents are the most fatal? ›

Head-On Collisions

Inarguably the most dangerous type of car accident in which a person can be, a head-on collision occurs when two vehicles collide after driving toward each other in a straight path.

What is the most difficult disaster to prevent? ›

Earthquakes are one of the most unpredictable and damaging disasters.

What is disaster class 9? ›

A disaster is defined as a disruption on a massive scale, either natural or man-made, occurring in short or long periods. Disasters can lead to human, material, economic or environmental hardships, which can be beyond the bearable capacity of the affected society.

What are 3 solutions to natural disasters? ›

Nature-based solutions, such as conserving forests, wetlands and coral reefs, can help communities prepare for, cope with, and recover from disasters, including slow-onset events such as drought.

What was the process through which the contaminated waste obtained from Seveso accident was destroyed in Switzerland in 1982? ›

The waste and material destroyed were place in barrels to be incinerated in Switzerland. The equipment was removed and decontaminated.

When did Seveso dioxin cloud happen? ›

On July 10, 1976, an explosion at a northern Italian chemical plant released a thick, white cloud of dioxin that quickly settled on the town of Seveso, north of Milan.

Can animals detect disaster? ›

Anecdotal evidence abounds of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and insects exhibiting strange behavior anywhere from weeks to seconds before an earthquake. However, consistent and reliable behavior prior to seismic events, and a mechanism explaining how it could work, still eludes us.

What disasters can animals sense? ›

Plenty of studies have shown that some animals can sense major changes in the weather. Worms, for instance, are known to flee rising groundwater. Birds are known to be sensitive to air pressure changes, and often hunker down before a big storm.

How do disasters affect animals? ›

The wind, rain, and debris from storms injure and kill animals and cause a lot of damage to their habitats, including destroying shelters and contaminating food and water sources.

Which town was destroyed due to dioxin contamination? ›

This town, Times Beach, Missouri, was the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation's history. Nearly 40 years ago, an individual was paid to spray material on the roads to suppress the dust in this small Midwest town.

What are the Seveso COMAH Regulations? ›

The aim of Seveso III/COMAH Regulations is to both prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances in the workplace and to limit the consequences of such accidents to people and the environment. There are legally binding requirements on all establishments affected by the regulation.

What are the Seveso III regulations? ›

The principles

The Seveso-III-Directive (2012/18/EU) aims at the prevention of major accidents involving dangerous substances. However, as accidents may nevertheless occur, it also aims at limiting the consequences of such accidents not only for human health but also for the environment.

Who was responsible for Seveso disaster? ›

Twenty-five years ago, one of the Western world's worst chemical disasters took place in Seveso, near Milan, Italy. A toxic cloud laced with chlorine and dioxin escaped from a factory owned by an affiliate of the Swiss multinational, Roche. Today, local residents are still fighting for compensation.

What is the difference between upper and lower tier COMAH sites? ›

There are two levels of COMAH site: Lower Tier sites, which hold a smaller hazardous inventory; and Upper Tier sites, which have larger hazardous inventories, and are considered to be more potentially hazardous. The regulatory requirements are more stringent for Upper Tier sites.

What is the limit of lower tier COMAH? ›

The qualifying threshold in tonnes is 50te for lower tier ( LT ) and 200te for upper tier ( UT ) COMAH . Biogas is aggregated with other flammable gases or liquids, such as liquid petroleum gas ( LPG , propane or butane) or diesel. These have individual lower tier COMAH limits of 50 tonnes and 2500 tonnes respectively.

What is upper and lower tier in COMAH? ›

These threshold quantities vary for different categories of substances. If you store or use more than the lower threshold for a dangerous substance your site is classed as a lower tier establishment. If you store or use more than the higher threshold your site is an upper tier establishment.

What does COMAH mean in safety? ›

The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations ensuring that businesses: "Take all necessary measures to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances. Limit the consequences to people and the environment of any major accidents which do occur"

Why is COMAH needed? ›

COMAH aims to prevent and mitigate the effects of major accidents involving dangerous substances which can cause serious damage/harm to people and/or the environment. COMAH treats risks to the environment as seriously as those to people.

What is the limit for hydrogen in COMAH? ›

Hydrogen is a named dangerous substance under COMAH regulations. The threshold quantities are 5 Tonnes (lower tier) and 50 Tonnes (upper tier).

Who regulates Comah? ›

The COMAH Regulations are enforced by the competent authority. This is the Environment Agency acting jointly with the Health and Safety Executive ( HSE ) or the Office for Nuclear Regulation ( ONR ).

What regulation or regulatory authority identified sites that have hazardous substances? ›

Summary. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, authorizes the President to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances into the environment.

What is control of substances hazardous to health 1992? ›

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 1992 provides a legal framework for preventing or controlling the exposure of persons to hazardous substances arising from work activities.


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