Biological Hazard

This past December marked the 32nd Anniversary of the Bhopal disaster—3,000 people were killed and another 170,000 injured when a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked chemical substances into the air. Regarded by many as one of history’s worst industrial accidents, Bhopal remains a horrific reminder of risks we continue to face today in an ever-industrializing world.

According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, Asian Scientist (Oct. 1, 2012) – Spanish researchers have identified 23 atomic power plants that are more prone to suffering the effects of a tsunami, after one struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi power station in Japan that led to the meltdown of three reactors in March 2011. In the study published in the journal Natural Hazards, the researchers drew a map of the world’s geographic zones that are more at risk of large tsunamis. As such phenomena are still difficult to predict, the authors used historical, archaeological, geological, and instrumental records as a base for determining tsunami risk. In total, they found that 23 plants are located in dangerous areas, including Fukushima I, with 74 reactors located in East and Southeast Asia.

These types of hazards are what we call Technological Hazards. The UNISDR definition of technological hazards refers to hazards that stem from technological or industrial conditions. This includes accidents, dangerous procedures, infrastructure deficiencies, and specific human activities that can cause death, injury, disease, or other health impacts, as well as jeopardize property, livelihood, and services, provoke social or economic disorder, and cause environmental damage.

Examples of technological hazards include industrial pollution, nuclear radiation, toxic wastes, dam failures, transport accidents, factory explosions, fires, and chemical spills.

Technological hazards can also result directly from the consequences of an event related to natural hazards, as in the case of the explosions of two nuclear reactors with the associated hazards of radioactivity in Fukushima, Japan, following a tsunami that accompanied an earthquake.

This category of hazards encompasses a very wide range of events and associated potential impacts on health.

What about Seychelles?

We take a look of Seychelles, an ever growing and developing economy, we neither have been spared of such hazards. We have had various cases involving such hazards especially with anhydrous ammonia in the country.

Burst tank at IOT which caused flooding (August 31st 2015)

 

What is the big deal with Ammonia?

Anhydrous ammonia is used in refrigeration systems (cold storage) for cooling and freezing. Companies started using it in the 1930s, and it still sees a lot of use today. Because its boiling point is low, it is one of the most efficient refrigerants on the market today. Although it’s used mostly in commercial applications, it plays a major role in keeping things cool today.

Even though ammonia fumes are toxic, it does not have a large impact on the environment. Unlike CFCs, which are hazardous to the ozone level, it has a minimal effect on the soil and water systems. Global warming is another concern, as greenhouse gasses form a shield and insulate the earth. However, ammonia does not contribute to global warming. In fact, it has no global warming potential at all.

A number of accidental releases of ammonia have occurred from refrigeration facilities in the past. Releases result from a number of situations that include plant upsets leading to over pressure conditions and lifting of pressure relief valves; seal leaks from rotating shafts and valve stems; refrigerant piping failures due to loss of mechanical integrity from corrosion; and hose failures that occur during ammonia deliveries. Some of these incidents have led to injury and fatalities onsite as well as causing adverse off-site consequences. In addition to risks of personal injury, ammonia releases have the potential of causing significant collateral damage including: product loss due to ammonia contamination, interruption of refrigeration capacity, product loss due to refrigeration interruption, and potential for equipment and property damage resulting from the incident.

What now?

Thus, there is a growing need to redress the Seychelles technical hazard management system in the country. The promotion of sound management of technological hazards in Seychelles, calls for appropriate institutional, policy, legal and administrative arrangements to be in place. An effective legal and policy framework for the management and control of chemicals should be multi-sectoral with the ability to promote a coordinated approach.

To date, no global agreement is in place for preventing and preparing for technological disasters. While there are a number of regional and sectoral frameworks, as well as mechanisms and policies to address various types of technological disasters, we lack an overarching framework that is equipped to address the sheer complexity of issues and diversity of actors involved.

The post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) (The Sendai Framework) offers a unique opportunity to address precisely this, and it gives us a real opportunity to strengthen national coordination and legislative frameworks, and to expand the capacities of all stakeholders for all risks, including technological hazards.

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