A series of explosions at a chemical plant in Texas following severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey highlight the risk of extreme weather-related industrial accidents and the urgent need to strengthen efforts for prevention and preparedness.
The explosions, which were caused by the loss of refrigeration to a warehouse storing highly volatile and extremely flammable chemicals, are an example of a Natural-hazard triggered technological accident, or “NATECH”.
The increasing frequency and severity of climate change-related extreme weather events underlines the vital importance of reinforcing measures worldwide to prevent future accidents, and ensuring better preparedness to respond in a safe and timely manner should they occur.
In terms of prevention, this means identifying risks for different accident scenarios, facilitating their evaluation and integration into the procedures for the safe management of industrial plants, and ensuring appropriate land-use planning. It is also crucial to enhance preparedness through emergency exercises and effective contingency plans – both on- and off-site – with full cooperation between industry and public authorities, including across national borders.
This most recent example could inspire the critical evaluation and reassessment of the location of industrial facilities in areas at risk from extreme weather events such as floods and other disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis.
The need to further improve prevention and preparedness is in line with the priorities set out in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by UN Member States in March 2015. An important feature of this is strengthening disaster risk governance at the national and transboundary levels.
This is also the focus of ongoing cooperation between OECD, UNECE and other partners, to strengthen knowledge and capacity on prevention and preparedness for NATECH incidents.
UNECE is committed to working with all countries and stakeholders to prevent and prepare for industrial accidents, including those caused by natural disasters, through its Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents.
Note to editors
UNECE works with countries to prevent and prepare for industrial accidents. The Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, which entered into force in 2000, was signed by 26 UNECE member countries and the European Union. Today, the Convention has 41 Parties in Western Europe, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The USA signed the Convention in 1992, but is not a Contracting Party.
The Convention aims at protecting human beings and the environment against industrial accidents by preventing such accidents as far as possible, by reducing their frequency and severity and by mitigating their effects. It covers the effects of accidents caused by natural disasters and focuses specifically on the transboundary context. It promotes active international cooperation between Contracting Parties, before, during and after an industrial accident.
The Convention applies to installations holding hazardous chemical substances above agreed thresholds as per its annex I that could, in the case of an accident, cause a transboundary effect. Organic peroxides, manufactured by the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, are covered by the Convention.
In cooperation with OECD, and other UN partners, UNECE provides support to countries on reducing the risk of NATECH and other industrial accidents. This includes the development of “Words into Action” guidelines on man-made/technological hazards in partnership with UNISDR and the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit. The guidelines are currently open for public consultation at: http://www.preventionweb.net/publications/view/54153