You are on page 1of 3


The Seveso Disaster, an infamous industrial disaster which was caused by a leakage in
Soveso, Italy. The chemical plant was producing trichlorophenol, (TCP) which was left
unfinished and un-cooled as the last shift of the ICMESA, short for Industrie Chimiche Meda
Societa Azionaria, factory for the weekend. To cut cost, the workers did not cool the
substances, causing the substances to overheat. The chemicals reacted, heated up
spontaneously and blew up the safety valves in the reactor. Heat and pressure was then built
up as water shields were absent, thus 2, 3, 7, 8- Tetracholorbenzo-p-dioxin was formed. The
chemical plant was said to release a thick white cloud of 2, 3, 7, 8- Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-
dioxin, a highly toxic substance. The deadly poison that that was dispersed into the air, caused
an environmental pollution, which was then spread to the northern part of the town in Milan.

What is 2, 3, 7, 8 Tetracholorodibenzo-p-dioxin? Other names for it is Tetradioxin,

Tetracholorodibenzodioxin, Tetracholorodibenzo-p-dioxin or commonly known as dioxin or
TCDD, this substance is a colorless solid with no distinguishable odor at room temperature,
normally formed a waste product when burning organic materials or organic synthesis. Figure
1.1 shows the IUPAC form of TCDD.

Figure 1.1: IUPAC for 2, 3, 7, 8 Tetracholorodibenzo-p-dioxin

It is said to be the most potent or strongest compound in the dioxins series, a very persistent
impurity that usually exist in a complex mixture of dioxin-like compounds and is a
carcinogen. The expertise of the World Health Organization, short for WHO, has classified
dioxins as toxic, which will risk the health of any living organism that are exposed to it.
Researchers also found out that exposure to high dose of dioxin will cause damages to tissues
and even cancer. Even so, there was an epidemiological evidence stated that TCDD is not
carcinogenic at low doses. Test has been done to animals that are exposed to high dosage of
dioxin, affecting almost all of their organs, causing the animals to suffer from anorexia. These
animals lasted for 1 to 6 weeks after the TCDD administration.

Seveso disaster had thousands of inhabitants that were exposed to high doses of
dioxins, which killed a number of animals. The concentration of the TCDD was measured up
to 56,000 pg/g of fat affecting those who were going outdoors unprotected. Long-term effects
caused multiple myeloma and leukemia to the residents and some development effects of

The tragedy started as the rupture disk of the reactor is designed to rupture when the
pressure increases due to uncontrolled reaction, and the leakage was said to be a planned
phenomenon. Even so, none of the employees or the employer took countermeasures to
prevent the dioxin from continuing to spread to the air, resulting health damages to the
civilians and animals.

The dispersion of the toxic uses the molecular diffusion or diffusion for short, where
by the particles of gas or liquid at temperature above absolute zero will undergo a thermal
motion. The rate of the movement of the fluid is a function of viscosity of the fluid, the size or
mass of the particles and also the temperature. Diffusion transfers molecules from higher
concentration region to a lower concentration region. As the concentration met equilibrium,
the molecules would still continue to move around, but since there is no concentration
gradient the process of molecular diffusion ends. This state is considered as dynamic
equilibrium. The gases dispersion is abide by Ficks Law, a law that the rate at which one
substance diffuses through another is directly proportional to the concentration gradient of the
diffusing substance. The relationship is expressed by Ficks Law as shown in the formula

NA = -DAB dx


NA = Rate of diffusion

DAB = Diffusivity of A through B

Ca = Concentration of species A

x = Gradual variation in the concentration of A occurs along an axis


The main cause of the accident is because of the improper conduct of the plant
operator and the lack of knowledge among the workers. The operators stopped the operation
in an incorrect way, causing a temperature rose inside the reactor. Without proper energy
transport in and out of the reactor, the heat accumulated inside the reactor caused a runaway
reaction to occurred, producing a toxic gas, dioxin. A rupture disk then operated, releasing the
toxic chemical into the environment.

It also become one of the major chemical disaster in history due to the slow response
in the authority from the moment of accident. Several days passed before it was announced
that a gas containing dioxin had been released from the facility. And it takes about two weeks
after the date of incident before the local government informed inhabitants of the area of the
pollution and enforced evacuation. By this time, due to the mass transport property, the toxic
gas has spread over 18 km2 of the surrounding area and fell to the earth in rain.