Sandoz chemical spill
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The Sandoz chemical spill was a major environmental disaster caused by a fire and its subsequent extinguishing at Sandoz agrochemical storehouse in the Schweizerhalle industrial complex, Basel-Landschaft, Switzerland, on 1 November 1986, which released toxic agrochemicals into the air and resulted in tons of pollutants entering the Rhine river, turning it red.
The chemicals caused a massive mortality of wildlife downstream, killing among other things a large proportion of the European eel population in the Rhine, although the situation subsequently recovered within a couple of years.
The stored chemicals included, urea, fluorescent dye, organophosphate insecticides, mercury compounds and organochlorines. Among the major resulting water pollutants were dinitro-ortho-cresol, the organophosphate chemicals propetamphos, parathion, disulfoton, thiometon, etrimphos and fenitrothion, as well as the organochlorine metoxuron.
The cause of the blaze was never established. In 2000, Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior U.S. intelligence official, stated that the Soviet KGB had ordered the East German Stasi to sabotage the chemical factory. According to him, the operation's objective was to distract attention from the Chernobyl disaster six months earlier in the Soviet Union. The Swiss authorities were considering opening investigations again.
As a consequence of the incident Sandoz extended its health, safety and environment activities and introduced new procedures for risk and emergency management, including auditing.
Notes and references
- 1986: Chemical spill turns Rhine red, BBC News.
- Herbert Güttinger & Werner Stumm (1992). An Analysis of the Rhine Pollution caused by the Sandoz Chemical Accident, 1986. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 17 (2), 127-136.
- Anton Lelek & Christian Köhler (1990). Restoration of fish communities of the rhine river two years after a heavy pollution wave. Regulated Rivers: Research & Management 5 (1): 57-66.
- B. Hurni. Sandoz Accident. In: Organic Micropollutants in the Aquatic Environment: Proceedings of the Fifth European Symposium, Rome, Italy, October 20–22, 1987. Boston: Kluwer, 1988. P. 128-131.
- Efraim Halfon & Rainer Büggemann (2006). Environmental Hazard Ranking of Chemicals Spilled in the Rhine River in November 1986. Acta hydrochimica et hydrobiologica 17(1), 47-60.
- Police moot new probe into Schweizerhalle blaze. Swiss info.
- KGB ordered Swiss explosion to distract attention from Chernobyl. United Press International. 27 Nov 2000
- Stasi accused of Swiss disaster. The Irish Times. Nov 23, 2000.
- Sehnsucht Natur: Ökologisierung des Denkens (2009). Johannes Straubinger.
- Website of doCOUNT Ltd.
- Environmental movement in Switzerland
- Environment in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.