EU Commission Proposes to Strengthen Measures to Prevent Chemical Accidents

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BRUSSELS--Legislation designed to prevent and mitigate chemical accidents in the European Union should be updated and made more stringent, the European Commission said Dec. 21.

In particular, operators of chemical plants should be required to distribute more detailed information to people living around installations and the public should have more opportunity to take part in the formulation of emergency plans as well as decisions to modifications to plants, the Commission said.

The Commission put forward the proposals as part of a review of the so-called Seveso II Directive (96/82/EC), named for a town in northern Italy where a major release from a pesticide manufacturer in 1976 led to widespread dioxin poisoning. The Seveso II Directive set out safety planning standards that chemical plants must meet.

An impact assessment accompanying the revision proposals said the frequency of major chemical accidents in the European Union declined by one-fifth between 2000 and 2008, suggesting that “the [Seveso] Directive is meeting its objectives.”

Nevertheless, the Commission said a revision of the directive was necessary because it had to be brought into line with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which was adopted into EU law in 2008 through the CLP Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on the classification, labeling, and packaging of substances (31 INER 847, 9/17/08).

The proposed legislation to revise the Seveso regime will be sent to the European Parliament and EU governments represented in the EU Council, which will decide jointly on the final form of the legislation.

Various Modifications to Directive.

The Commission’s proposals would see a number of small modifications to the Seveso II Directive.

The list of substances within the scope of the directive would be aligned with GHS and a mechanism would be introduced so that new substances could be listed and others de-listed.

Changes to the list of substances might be necessary because, according to the impact assessment, switching to the GHS hazard classification would mean that around 4 percent of the 10,000 facilities presently covered by Seveso rules would fall out of the scope of the law, while about 340 installations would come within its scope for the first time.

Subsequent modifications to the list of hazardous substances would ensure that no dangerous chemical that should be within the scope of the legislation was left out, the Commission said.

Tightening of Standards.

The revision also would tighten safety inspection standards and would introduce a one-year deadline following an accident for national authorities to carry out an analysis and submit it to the Commission.

However, the Commission said offshore exploration activities, including oil drilling, would continue to be outside the scope of the law.

In July, as part of a review of offshore oil drilling safety in the wake of the BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said Seveso-type legislation could be considered for oil platforms (33 INER 696, 7/21/10).

The Seveso revision proposal said the Commission was still examining how best to regulate oil drilling, and “corresponding legislative proposals will include either extending the scope of existing legislation to offshore oil and gas installations or a stand-alone initiative for such operations.”

By Stephen Gardner

More information on the proposal to revise the EU Seveso II Directive is available at