Industry-induced man-made disasters have increased in frequency and consequence over the last 30 years and are now comparable to natural disasters, according to a new study by the Eastern European Association of the Greens (EEAG).
Although human economic activity has always been associated with risk, the damage caused by man-made disasters has increased by almost three fold with considerable cost in human life, long term environmental damage, and a financial cost estimated at a staggering $200 billion per year globally.
The study concentrated on four sectors: the chemical industry, oil refining, coal mining, and nuclear energy.
It found that chemical production facilities are the single most dangerous sources of man-made catastrophes, citing case studies such as that of an accident at a BASF facility in Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 1948, which led to chemical explosions with the devastating force of up to 60 tons of TNT resulting in the deaths of 207 employees, 3,818 injuries, and damage to more than 4,500 homes.
Also cited was the explosion at the Nypro UK caprolactam plant at Flixborough, England, which in 1974 resulted in what was at that time the largest explosion ever seen in the UK during peacetime, and also the Bhopal tragedy in India, in 1984, which resulted in the deaths over time of as many as 20,000 people.
Coal mining remains also extremely hazardous, particularly in developing economies, and, like in the oil refining sector, the activity itself presents huge costs to the environment. To give an example of the human cost, in China alone, between the years 2005-2015, more than 28,000 miners lost their lives – and that is just according the officially acknowledged statistics.
But these are not merely statistics: these were human beings with families, responsibilities, and aspirations.
Nuclear energy, despite being probably of the greatest concern to most people, interestingly proves to have the best safety record of all the sectors examined.
Whilst there have been well known accidents, such as Chernobyl, and others in the former Soviet Union that were kept secret, major incidents such as those at Three-Mile Island and Fukushima were largely kept under control with no loss of life.
This is likely to be due to the high-levels of safety awareness, and also the extremely tight and up to date legislation concerning all activities in this sector.
EEAG is calling for new, and more relevant legislation, to cover all industrial facilities in Europe in order to stem this growing tide of accidents, and the subsequent cost in human life and environmental damage, recently launching their report at the Press Club in Brussels.
Their policy recommendations are based on a pyramid requiring a unified EU strategy at the top, leading to EU directives and regulations, legislation in member states, international standards and guidelines, and most importantly, implementation at industry level.