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Technological accidents are defined as negative events of human (mostly industrial) origin For the purposes of this report natural disasters are defined as events of natural origin that cause health, economic and environmental damage.
The three types of technological accidents are addressed on the map — oil spills, industrial accidents and mining accidents. They have been chosen because of their potential to cause considerable environmental damage, because they occur fairly frequently and because policy intervention is needed to remedy their damage and prevent their recurrence.
By methodological needs technological accidents can be divided in five groups:
•Mass food poisonings
Overt disasters are environmental releases which leave no ambiguity about their sources and their potential harm. Examples are Seveso and Bhopal. Seveso’s accident took place in 1976 and it caused contamination of several square kilometres of populated countryside by the powerfully toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). More than 700 people were evacuated, and restrictions were applied to another 30,000 inhabitants. Bhopal represents, probably, the worst chemical industrial disaster ever. It happened in 1984 when gas leak caused a deadly cloud to spread over the city of Bhopal, in central India, leaving thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands injured in the space in few hours.
One of the most impressive and instructive examples of the slow-onset disasters is “Minamata disease”. In 1953 unusual neurological disorders similar to that due to poisoning by alkyl mercury compounds began to strike people living in fishing villages along Minamata Bay, Japan. A source was found in a factory discharging of mercury into Minamata Bay and the subsequent biological transformation into organic compound into the fish that were used as food.
Outbreaks of food poisoning can be caused also by toxic chemicals released into the environment through the use of chemicals in the handling and processing of food. One of the most serious episodes of this type occurred in Spain in 1981 when previously unknown syndrome with signs of toxic pneumonitis, and gastro-intestinal symptoms affected over 20 000 persons with 315 deaths. The illness was found to be associated with the consumption of inexpensive denatured rapeseed oil, sold in unlabelled plastic containers that caused contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Similar poisoning was reported in Japan and in Taiwan and dioxin poisoning was detected in Belgium.
An obvious example of transnational disasters is Chernobyl, whose contamination reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 is regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power. The explosion in the plant resulted in radioactive contamination of the surrounding geographical area, and a cloud of radioactive fallout drifted over western parts of the former Soviet Union, eastern and western Europe, some Nordic countries and eastern North America. Large areas of Ukraine, the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation were badly contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336 000 people.
The occurrence of ‘developing” disasters is connected with industrialization and modernization of agriculture in developing countries and application of imported or adopted technology and products, which are quite different from those in which they were intended to be used. It was estimated that about 500,000 acute pesticide poisonings occur annually, resulting in about 9,000 deaths, and that only about 1% of the deadly cases occur in industrialized countries, although those countries consume about 80% of the total world agrochemical production.