30 Years After the Schweizerhalle Chemical Accident (Sandoz Accident)

Switzerland had a rude awakening on the morning of 1 November 1986. A fire in Schweizerhalle caused an ecological disaster in Basel which resulted in serious damage to life along the upstream stretch of the Rhine for many years. One consequence of the disaster was the enactment of Switzerland’s Ordinance on the Prevention of Major Accidents, which provides for greater safety. The ordinance establishes the basis for the cooperation between all of the parties involved – from companies that use dangerous substances to the inspection.

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© Silvio Mettler

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Schweizerhalle: a fire sparks action on major accident prevention

The fire of 1 November 1986 in a chemical warehouse in the Schweizerhalle industrial complex (Basel) caused devastating ecological damage. Life in a stretch of the Rhine totalling several hundred kilometres in length was destroyed, and it took years for the river to recover. This chemical accident also led to the enactment of the Major Accidents Ordinance. This ordinance makes a crucial contribution to reducing the risks resulting from the handling and transport of dangerous substances.

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The Major Accidents Ordinance takes shape

Switzerland’s Ordinance on the Prevention of Major Accidents (MAO) establishes the basis for the cooperation of all affected actors in the area of major accidents prevention. During the drafting of the act, the authorities were able to take direction from models available in other countries. However the MAO goes one important step further: its provisions target not only stationary installations, but also transport and pipeline systems.

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International monitoring network records environmental transgressions

The world’s most modern installation for the monitoring of a water body is located in Weil am Rhein in Germany, downstream of Basel. Thanks to the ingenious testing technology available there, timely warnings about contaminant waves can be issued to downstream users – for example drinking-water plants.

New challenges: major accidents prevention remains an ongoing task

The development of new substances and Switzerland’s growing population density, both of which increase the potential for serious damage, shows that the Major Accidents Ordinance requires constant adaptation to current circumstances

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Last modification 28.10.2016

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