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Fires or explosions account for half of all industrial accidents recorded in Europe over the past two decades. They are also the most dangerous type of industrial accident. The worst industrial accident between 1998 and 2002 was the explosion at an ammonium nitrate fertiliser plant in the French city of Toulouse in September 2001. However, the heaviest toll in human lives over the period was taken by accidents at fireworks
facilities. The most serious of these was in May 2000, when 100 tonnes of fireworks exploded at a warehouse in the middle of a low-income neighbourhood in the Dutch town of Enschede. The blast killed more than 20 people, destroyed 500 houses and left 2 000 people homeless. The same month five people were killed and 18 injured in a fire and explosion at a fireworks factory in Rafelcofer in Spain. In August 2001, an explosion at a fireworks plant in Caldelas, Portugal, killed five people and injured another.
The geographical and temporal impact of accidents involving fires and explosions alone tends to be relatively limited but can be greatly magnified if, in a ‘domino effect’, they result in toxic substances being released to air, water or soil, as happened in the Toulouse disaster.
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