Efforts are made to make healthier choices in terms of energy and transport in both developed and developing countries. All legislators now acknowledge the need for alternative energy and transport choices to promote the health and well-being not only of current generations, but also those of the future. Indeed, on a wider scale, healthier choices can eventually mean the difference between the longevity of the human race or its ultimate destruction. It can therefore be said with certainty that the impact of the 1952 event can still be felt today. It forms the basis of the fundamental realization that air pollution is very detrimental to human health, and that alternative fuel sources are essential if the situation is to improve. The first part of the disaster, the fire, was only noticed when it was already a significant problem. The chemicals inside the building were very flammable, and the building was big. These two factors contributed to an exacerbated disaster before it was even seen. Furthermore, the lack of foresight by stacking flammable materials together as well as the lack of a sprinkler system to mitigate the risk factor resulted in the lack of control over the fire.
II the Fire at Sandoz Ltd.
II.1 the Crisis
The 1986 fire at Sandoz Ltd. occurred near Basel, Switzerland on 1 November. Like the London smog, was more or less a disaster waiting to happen. In this case however, human error rather than the collaboration of natural elements, is mostly responsible for the disaster. The disaster was two-fold: the fire that resulted in the firefighting effort, and subsequently the large-scale chemical spill into the Rhine River. The fire began in a building that the company used to store pesticides, mercury and other chemicals. The result was very toxic fumes, and residents were warned to stay indoors.
Firefighters responded to the fire in the normal manner, by using water hoses. The fire was already out of control when it was seen by highway patrol police and the plant night watchman. Because of the flammable chemicals in the warehouse, the fire soon consumed the whole building and its contents. In response, the firefighting team decided to use large amounts of water to prevent further harmful emissions (Federal Emergency Management Agency). For this purpose, more than 3,000 gallons of water per minute was pumped form the river. The basin provided for 12,000 gallons of the deadly mix created by the firefighting water mixed with chemicals. This was however not enough, and it overflowed. This triggered the second part of the disaster.
The chemicals in the building mixed with firefighting water. This water was washed into the river, along with thirty tons of chemicals, which turned the Rhine River red. The chemicals included 35 different chemicals such as pesticides, dyes and heavy metals (PANNA, 2007). Being highly toxic, the chemicals killed all living organisms in its path (BBC.co.uk). The Rhine is eastern Europe's most important waterway.
The disaster had wide-ranging effects on the environment. It negated 10 years of cleaning work on the river. In a single day, the disaster repolluted the Rhine to the level of decades of industrialized pollution from France, Germany and Switzerland. Before the cleaning effort, the river was so polluted that fish began to disappear and swimming was forbidden for being dangerous to human life. According to the PANNA (2007) report, more than 500,000 fish were killed in the river, and several species were eliminated. The whole scale death of all living organisms in the death stretched for 300 km downstream.
Several elements contributed to the risk and outbreak of disaster, to which the facility itself was no small contributor. The warehouse was fairly old, having been built in 1967. It formed part of the larger complex owned by Sandoz in Schweizerhalle near Basel on the left bank of the river. Not being intended as a warehouse per se, but rather as a shelter from weather, the building had not sprinkler system. Such a system was not installed, because the company did not consider the risk of fire to be significant (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
This is interesting when considering that the part of the building where the fire started was stacked with mainly flammable liquids such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Phosphoric acid and organic mercury compounds particularly had a 30 degree C. flashpoint. It is believed that ferric ferrocyanice may have been instrumental in the start of the fire. These flammables were all stacked together, with the other half of the building containing mainly harmless chemicals (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Surely this in itself increases the risk significantly.
II.2 Identification and Management
Like the smog disaster, officials in charge of crisis ...
The second part of the disaster was exacerbated because of a lack of proper communication between officials in charge of the Rhine. The Swiss official in charge at the time for example informed his French and German colleagues only via the local warning system, but did not notify officials through the international warning system. Thus downstream alarm offices never received notification until the pollution had reached them, and it was too late to close water intakes (Huisman). International warning centers only received word two days after the disaster, because it occurred over a weekend. German television stations did however broadcast information relating to the disaster, and German authorities on the right river bank were able to close their water intake stations on time to avert serious problems. To mitigate the disaster, weirs in the Lower Rhine in the Netherlands were opened so that the affected water could be directed to the North Sea (Huisman).
Also instrumental in the lack of management for this particular disaster is the fact that Sandoz itself appears not to have learned from its mistakes. As mentioned in the following section, the company nearly caused another spill into the Rhine before moving its business from the premises.
II.3 Results and Lessons Learned
The immediate effect of the spill was a wide scale public outcry, with environmental and other agencies calling for a shut down of Sandoz (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Apparently this outcry was not without a sound basis: according to PANNA (2007), Sandoz's operations nearly resulted in another spill on the Rhine. The result is that the company moved all production to Brazil by 1989. Long-term planning to avert future disasters of the kind included placing water quality surveillance stations along the Rhine to monitor water quality and prevent illegal discharge from manufacturers (Huisman).
In an attempt to make optimal use of the lessons learned from the disaster, the officials involved met to determine ways of streamlining the existing communication and reporting system along the Rhine. The result was an improvement to the international warning system and the harmonization of regulations governing pollution problems. These regulations are now more specifically aimed at preventing sudden spillages. Further discussions were held at a conference in December 1986, where the focus was on further reducing the pollution and prevent future incidents of the kind. Industries are now for example required to construct basins for the storage and treatment of liquids occurring both on site and entering from other sources such as firefighting efforts (Huisman). Such water is then to be treated to meet current emission standards before being discharged into rivers.
As for communication, e-mail is now common practice for the Rhine warming system. A new collaboration system of clearer mutual understanding now exists between regional, national and international warning stations. New clean-up objectives and repopulation of the Rhine were also discussed. The objectives for a 50% reduction in the ten years since the disaster, and the repopulation plans were largely successful, with more than 80% of the pollutants cleaned up in III Conclusion
It is a sad fact of human life that we are often unprepared for disasters, precisely because they are unforeseen. Unfortunately events such as the London smog and the Sandoz fire often result in large-scale losses of either human life, assets or ecological harmony. The mitigation of these disasters are often significant in terms of scale and cost. It would therefore be even more expensive not to turn such experiences into lessons for the future.
In the case of the London smog, the lessons learned seem to manifest themselves all over the world. Because of the disaster, identification and management has much improved for both developed and developing countries. This is a case in which history was used to learn from and to improve lives in the future.
In the case of the Sandoz fire, management officials seem to be the ones who learned the most and acted upon these lessons to mitigate future disasters. The disaster was terrible and tragic, but also possible to remedy, which the officials did. All problems were identified and considered for necessary changes to prevent further problems in the future. It is unclear…
The first part of the disaster, the fire, was only noticed when it was already a significant problem. The chemicals inside the building were very flammable, and the building was big. These two factors contributed to an exacerbated disaster before it was even seen. Furthermore, the lack of foresight by stacking flammable materials together as well as the lack of a sprinkler system to mitigate the risk factor resulted in the lack of control over the fire.
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