Basel, Switzerland November 1986

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  • Topic: North Sea, Rhine, Germany
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Basel, Switzerland November 1986 – Causes, Consequences and Prevention

Background of the Accident
On 1st Nov 1986 at 00:19 hours a huge fire was discovered at Sandoz warehouse in Schweizerhalle near Basel, Switzerland. The warehouse contained 1300 tons of organic chemicals for agricultural use. There was an estimated 20,000m3 of water used to extinguish the fire. This resulted in around 30 tonne of toxic agro-chemicals being washed into the River Rhine through drains and seep into surrounding soil with highly contaminated firewater. Within 10 days of the incident the pollution had travelled the length of the Rhine turning it red and into the North Sea. The River Rhine is an important central European River with many bordering countries. Causes & Management

The cause of this fire is not yet clear but it is doubted that there was a leak present in the sacks or drums where the toxic materials were stored which would have resulted in a potential explosive atmosphere. There were no automatic sprinklers or smoke detectors in the warehouse which could have controlled or raised an alarm to control the fire before it rapidly spread throughout the building. There was a system present which monitored the temperature and was suppose to activate flashing lights and extra precautions when temperatures exceeded 25◦C. This suggests that this system was not working correctly at the time of the industrial fire. The poor early warning systems in Sandoz contributed to the rapid uncontrolled spread of fire and in turn the amount of water required in extinguishing the fire. Swiss government agencies and insurance companies had approved the storage of flammable liquids in containers stacked to a height of 10m in the building with peak height of 12m. Four days before the incident there was a routine inspection carried out and West German, Dutch and French senior officials blamed the Swiss for negligence with dealing with disaster. This disaster happened in the early hours of...
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