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Case Study 6

Page history last edited by Anja Jones 11 years, 11 months ago

Dioxins Disasters


Dioxins are a group of extremely toxic chemicals, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) that can build up in the human body, and remain in the environment for years.  Dioxins are formed when chlorine or a material containing chlorine is heated at high temperatures.  These chemicals are mostly found as the byproducts of the production of certain plastics (PVC) and chemicals (herbicides and pesticides).



The Places:



Seveso, Italy.  Seveso is a small town in Northern Italy, approximately 60 km north of Milan.  In Meda, Italy, another small town about 3 km northeast of Seveso, stood the industrial plant Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria (ICMESA).  Adjacent to Seveso are the cities of Desio, Cesano Moderno, Barlassina, and Bovisio Masciago.  All of these cities were affected, but Seveso suffered the hardest blow.


Mossville is a small town in southwestern Louisiana.  Within a mile of Mossville there are 17 industrial facilities, three of those facilities Condea Vista (Georgia Gulf), Conoco Refinery, and PPG have experienced accidental releases of toxic chemicals into the air at 1 every 3 days during the years 1998 - 2001.  The most dangerous currently is the release of dioxin compounds by the Conoco Refinery.


Times Beach, Missouri. Times Beach was a small town of 2,240 residents located just 17 miles outside of St. Louis. The town was completely evacuated in the mid-1980s due to a dioxin scare that made national headlines. It was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in the United States. In the years immediately prior to its evacuation, Times Beach had become a lower-middle class town. Prone to flooding throughout its history – its first buildings were built on stilts. In 1999, the site of Times Beach was opened as a 419 acre state park.



The Stakeholders:


·         Seveso, Italy

o   Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria (ICMESA): manufacturer of soap, detergents and cleaning preparations, perfumes, cosmetics and other toilet preparations; ICMESA was a subsidiary of Givaudan, a corporation known for the production of various flavors and fragrances.   Givaudan was a daughter company of the corporation Roche Group, formerly known as Hoffman-La Roche

o   The residents of Seveso and the adjacent cities





·         Mossville, LA

o   Conoco Phillips: a worldwide energy company; third largest in the U.S

o   Condea Vista (Georgia Gulf): a leading North American manufacturer and international marketer of chlorovinyls and aromatics

o   PPG: a world leader in the production of chlorine, caustic soda and related chemicals for use in chemical manufacturing

o   The predominantly African American residents



·         Times Beach. MI

o   Residents of Times Beach

o   Russell Bliss: a waste hauler contracted to spray oil on dirt roads for dust control in 1971. He also had a contract with NEPACCO

o   NEPACCO (Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company): operated a facility producing hexachlorophene in Verona, Missouri. Some parts of the facility had been used for the production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The waste clay and water contained levels of dioxin some 2,000 times higher than the dioxin content in Agent Orange.

o   Syntex: The parent company of NEPACCO. A pharmaceutical company formed in Mexico City in 1944 by Russell Marker to manufacture therapeutic steroids from the Mexican yam. Syntex was integrated into the Roche group in 1994.




The Issues: 


What makes dioxin poisoning so horrible its long term effects.  Most of the damage appears after initial exposure, often in the drinking water, soil, air, and even household dust.  All of these sources can then filter to the unaware residents of the infected area.  Not only does the affect of exposure take a long time to manifest, but the exposure itself may be quite obvious as in the case of Seveso, Italy or quietly menacing as in Mossville, Louisiana and Times Beach, Missouri.  Exposure may differ greatly, but the long term harm is the same.


The Seveso Disaster


What would have been a normal afternoon, at about 12:37 pm on July 10, 1976 in Meda, Italy, soon turned into a nightmarish event that would alter the lives of many citizens in both Meda and the surrounding cities.  In a plant belonging to the Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria (ICMESA), a bursting disc on a chemical reactor ruptured, releasing a giant cloud of vapor through a vent leading to the roof.  This monstrous gas puff contained the chemical 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, also known as TCDD or more generally as dioxin, which is a highly toxic material used in the production of herbicides and pesticides.  The release of gas lasted for approximately 20 minutes, and it was not until an hour or so later that the operators were able to cool down the reactor (Health and Safety Executive, 2008).  However, by this time, the cloud had begun to drift into other adjacent vicinities.


The city of Seveso was the region most highly affected by the exposure to TCDD.   Thousands of animals died instantly, and many more were slaughtered to prevent dioxin from entering the food chain.  Despite the fact that there were no human fatalities, many people became extremely ill following the accident.  Countless amounts of children, and some adults, began to develop inflammatory irritations on their skin, referred to as chloracne, due to dioxin poisoning (European Civil Protection, 2008).  In addition to these problems, many women, some pregnant at the time, found genetic defects and congenital deformities present in their children, which led many to obtain legal abortions (Health and Safety Executive, 2008).  Some recent studies have shown that residents in the area during the disaster have suffered increases in all sorts of disorders rangin from diabetes to bone cancer (Greenpeace EU Unit, 2006).




The residents of Mossville suffer a number of serious health problems including cancer, heart problems and respiratory disorders.  They are concerned that they have developed, or will develop adverse health effects from exposure to toxic releases from the heavily polluting facilities that engulf their community.  Dioxins, chlorine-containing chemicals generated by vinyl production, are among the most toxic substances known and chief among the community's health concerns.  Once released, dioxins and related compounds travel through air and water currents and accumulate in soils, sediments and on vegetation, where they are ingested or otherwise taken up by fish, cattle, and other animals that we eat.  Consequently, dioxins are eaten by humans and contaminate the tissues, blood and breastmilk of people throughout the world. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Gibbs et al. 2003) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified the most potent of the dioxins, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, as a human carcinogen. The U.S. EPA estimated a 1 in 1,000 cancer risk to Americans due to exposure (Gibbs et al. 2003).  Dioxins are also associated with a wide range of non-cancer effects including altered sexual development, reproductive problems, diabetes, organ toxicity, immune system disorders and the ability to mimic or block the action of hormones.


Times Beach Issues


In 1972, the community contracted a man named Russell Bliss to spray oil on roadways for dust control (Flock 1997). Bliss had first used the technique of spraying waste oil to control dust in horse stables. When a March 1971 spraying resulted in the death of 62 horses, the owners of the stable suspected Bliss, who assured them it was just used engine oil. But Bliss had mixed the NEPACCO waste with waste oil. The owners followed Bliss' activities, and after other stables experienced similar problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began investigating, and, in late 1979, a NEPACCO employee confessed the company's practice of handling dioxin. In 1982, the EPA conducted an investigation, and discovered that the oil Bliss obtained from NEPACCO (Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company) was contaminated by dioxin. Initially the contamination was confined to the roadways of TimesBeach, and concentrations of dioxin greater than 20 parts per billion (ppb) were detected on approximately 15,000 cubic feet of roadways. After the nearby Meramec River flooded in 1982, the toxin was found in surrounding soil with sampling indicating that about 13,600 cubic yards of soil was contaminated at levels above 20 ppb (EPA 1990).




Stakeholder’s positions:


The City of Seveso:


The Roche Group claimed that immidiate action was taken by both Givaudan and Roche to address the problem (Whipple, 2006).  However, a prompt response on their part was not executed.  Nine days after the incident, Givaudan actually made the confession that dioxin was indeed present in the gas cloud.  The very next day, they made a public statement announcing these findings and alerting the public of the possible health effects (De Marchi and others, 1996).


Mossville, LA


The corporations indicate that they are environmentally responsible, community oriented, safety minded (Conoco 2008)(Georgia 2008)(PPG 2008).  But the residents of Mossville believe those corporations are responsible for the pollution of their town.  When ATSDR, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry tested some of the population of Mossville, they found dioxin at least three times greater than the average person. (Appel 2007)  Unfortunately the ATSDR could not or would not confirm that any of the local plants were the source of the dioxin (Anonymous 2007). In 2005, a local Mossville environmental group filed a petition against the U.S. government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, on the grounds that Mossville's environmental human rights are being violated. The group is waiting for a response from the U.S. State Department (Appel 2007).


Times Beach


Russell Bliss claimed he was unaware that the waste he sprayed contained dioxin. Many of the town's citizens sued Bliss, NEPACCO, and its various subcontractors. Although the ethics and legality of Bliss' practices have been questioned, Bliss was never implicated nor convicted of any crime. About 265,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris from Times Beach and 28 other sites in eastern Missouri was incinerated from March 1996 to June 1997 in an incinerator built and operated on the site by Syntex the parent company of NEPACCO. The cleanup cost the government a total of $110 million, $10 million of which was reimbursed by Syntex.


Resolutions & Consequences:


The Seveso Disaster


Five Givaudan workers were sentenced to spend a few years in prison by the Criminal Court in Monza but appealed to the court an Milan: three of the five were found not guilty.  The other two appealed to the Supreme Court in Rome and their attorney called for their acquittal; however, the court confirmed the judgment against the two employees.  According to reports from the Roche Group in defense of Givaudan, "from the beginning Roche and Givaudan [made] every effort to redress the damage done” (Whipple, 2006).   In the face of this claim, later reports revealed that the company delayed action and took its time warning the public about the issue at hand (Whipple, 2006).


Several events have happened prior to the Seveso dioxin disaster that involved TCP, the chemical compound contained in the reactor at the incident that released dioxin as a result of the explosion. TCP production came to a cease following a dioxin accident at a site in Germany in 1953. Following a dioxin accident at a similar plant in the Netherlands in 1963, the site was closed down and taken apart. The pieces were then covered in concrete where they then got dumped into the ocean (De Marchi). Knowing that these events had previously occurred, the plant at the Seveso disaster remained in operation regardless. The issue of negligence comes into play because of the prior incidents involving dioxin. After an accident at a Dow Chemical plant in 1960 similar to the Seveso disaster, safety measures were taken to prevent future mishaps. Installed over the TCP reactor at the Dow Chemical plant was a supplemental safety vessel that in the case of the reactor valves rupturing, the safety vessel would contain the leak and cool down any toxic substances that may escape (De Marchi). The plant at the Seveso disaster could have taken this important safety measure to possibly prevent the accident from occurring. Money was most likely not an issue due to the fact that the location was at Lombardy, one of the most industrialized and wealthiest areas in all of Italy (De Marchi).


The Mossville Disaster


All of the companies believed to be involved in the polluting of Mossville deny any responsibility and continue working as normal.  The ATSDR issued another report in 2005 stating that all of the levels were in line with EPA standards and that there is nothing to indicate that the dioxin levels are connected to any of the manufacturing plants nearby (Anonymous).  The residents however, continue their struggle to receive health care, legislation to limit the plant emissions and additional independent dioxin testing.


The Times Beach Disaster


Relocation: The Centers for Disease Control recommended that the residents of Times Beach be permanently relocated. In 1983, the EPA transferred about $30 million in CERLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980) to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for the permanent relocation of all Times Beach residents and businesses. By 1986, all residents of Times Beach had been relocated, and the title to the site was transferred to the State of Missouri (EPA 2006).


Clean Up Effort: In 1988 the EPA decided that the proper course of action was to thermally treat contaminated soil exceeding 20 ppb dioxin, and to place a one-foot soil cover over portions of the site exceeding 1 ppb. The EPA also decided to carry out demolition and onsite disposal of treatment residues and the structures and debris remaining at Times Beach (EPA 1990). In 1990, the EPA, Missouri, and signed a Consent Decree stating which parties would be responsible for specific parts of the clean up effort. The EPA was responsible for the transportation of contaminated soil, and NEPACCO was responsible for demolition/disposal of structures and debris, operation of the thermal treatment facility, restoration of the site, and half of the clean-up costs.


The Aftermath: This cleanup effort was completed in 1997, and the site was reopened in 1999 as a State Park (EPA 2006). The EPA has reported that they have found “strong evidence” of the toxic effects of dioxin, and have even stronger reason to believe there are cancer and non-cancer health effects resulting from dioxin exposure. Russell Bliss was never charged with a crime, but he has been overwhelmed by civil lawsuits since the incident (Flock 1997).


All that sounds bad, but what can we do?


These are not isolated incidences, accidental and purposeful releases of toxic chemicals occur all around the world, every day.  Quiet unassuming rural towns are often the unknowing victims in the manufacturing race to produce more and make it cost less.  Understandably, most people are unaware of the hazards of manufacturing and what emissions companies are responsible for controlling.  As an occupant of this planet, we must all try to understand more about the current and potential dangers to our health and our community.  Our only recourse is to get involved to present a united front when it comes to creating new oversight committees on corporate regulation, new regulations on toxicity, new import/export rules and combining of communication resources before an incident occurs.  No communities should ever again be considered expendable in the manufacturing process.




Works Cited



The Seveso Disaster


De Marchi B, Funtowicz S, Ravets J.  Seveso: a paradoxical classic disaster.  In Mitchel JK, editor.  The long road to recovery: community responses.  New York: United Nations University Press, 1996. (no page numbers).


Europa. Major accidents involving dangerous substances. Europa [Internet]. [updated 25 Jul 2008]. [place unknown]; [cited 7 Oct 2008]. Available from: http://europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/lvb/l21215.htm

European Civil Protection. Chemical accidents (seveso II)- prevention, preparedness, and response. European Civil Protection [Internet]. [updated 20 Oct 2008]. Brussels: European Civil Protection; [cited 6 Oct 2008]. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/seveso/index.htm


Greenpeace EU Unit. The seveso disaster 30 years on. Greenpeace EU Unit 2006.


Health and Safety Executive. Icmesa chemical company, seveso, italy. 10 july 1976. Health and Safety Executive [Internet]. [updated 27 Jun 2008]. [place unknown]; [cited 7 Oct 2008]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/comah/sragtech/caseseveso76.htm


Whipple L. Givaudan SA. Answers.com [Internet]. [updated 2008]. [place unknown]; [cited 7 Oct 2008]. Available from: http://www.answers.com/topic/givaudan-sa



Mossville, LA


[Anonymous]. Industrial sources of dioxin poisoining in Mossville, Louisiana: a report based on the government's own data.  Corporate Crime Reporter 2007 Jul 24: 17.  (no page number).


[Anonymous]. Louisiana state facts.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Environmental Health; Publications: (no page number).


Appel, A.; Health-US: Tiny town demands justice in dioxin poisoning.  IPS [Internet]. Rome, Italy: IPS-Inter Press Service; 2007 Jul 25 [2008 Oct 18]. Available from: http://www.ips.org/institutional/


ConocoPhillips [Internet]. Houston, TX (USA): [2008; 2008 Oct 18]. Available from: http://www.conocophillips.com/company profile


Georgia Gulf [Internet]. Atlanta, GA (USA): [2008; 2008 Oct 18]. Available from: http://www.ggc.com/aboutus/index.cfm


Gibbs, J.; Hansen, M.; Ferrario, J.; Ambient air sampling for dioxins, furans and coplanar PCBs in an urban industrialized corridor in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Organohalogen Compounds 2003: 63. (no page numbers).


PPG [Internet]. Pittsburgh, PA (USA): [2008; 2008 Oct 18]. Available from: http://www.corporateportal.ppg.com/ppg



Times Beach, Missouri


[EPA] Environmental Protection Agency [Internet]. [updated 2007 Nov 28]. EPA National Priorities List site narrative for TimesBeach site; [cited 2008 Oct 7]. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/nar833.htm.


[EPA] Environmental Protection Agency [Internet]. 1990 Jul 18. EPA Superfund explanation of significant differences: TimesBeach; [cited 2008 Oct 7]. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/rods/fulltext/e0790509.pdf.


[EPA] Environmental Protection Agency [Internet]. 2006 Apr 21. Times Beach site; [cited 2008 Oct 7]. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/region7/cleanup/npl_files/mod980685226.pdf.


Flock J [interviewer]. [transcribed1997 Jun 26]. Toxic town: Bliss transcripts. CNN Chicago [Internet]; [cited 2008 Oct 7]. Available from: http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/26/times.beach/transcript/index1.htm.


Flock J [correspondent]. 1997 Jun 26. Clean-up ends in toxic town. CNN Interactive [Internet]; [cited 2008 Oct 7]. Available from: http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/26/times.beach/times.beach/index.htm.



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