Chemical plant explosion: safety flaws in Spain | In English

The explosion that hit a chemical plant in Tarragona on Tuesday at 6.38 p.m. It was so powerful that it shook the windows of buildings located more than 12 kilometers away. The explosion sent flying a piece of metal that weighed almost a ton for more than two kilometers, until it hit a residential building, killing a man who was inside his house. Large clouds of smoke rose over the surrounding areas and the flames were visible from nearby neighborhoods.

For a period of time that seemed like an eternity to the residents of the area, nobody knew the extent of the accident or the danger it represented. There were no alarms or instructions. As time passes, there is growing evidence that communication mechanisms did not work properly, which means that responsibility must be demanded and protocols reviewed.

No one knew the extent of the accident or the danger it presented

The explosion, which killed three people and left several people more seriously injured, took place in a 20-ton ethylene oxide reactor at a plant surrounded by communities with 300,000 residents. This is one of the most feared dangers by those who live next to the industrial center, which is the largest petrochemical park in southern Europe. Every year, residents conduct drills to see if emergency plans work.

But on this occasion, the company did not issue an alert about the accident and Civil Protection took 20 minutes to activate the emergency plan. With little information about the type of accident or its scope, they decided to preventively tell residents of neighboring areas and the three closest neighborhoods of Tarragona to stay inside their homes. But this order was communicated through social networks. The fact that a firefighters report later ruled out a toxic cloud cannot hide that the reaction to the accident was not the rapid and efficient one described in the chemical hazard protocols. Fortunately, the explosion did not create a toxic cloud, but if it had, the delay in taking confinement measures could have had consequences.

This accident does little to build trust in a community that is terrified of living so close to such a dangerous industry. Both the Catalan regional government and the other agencies involved in emergency management should review the action plans and apply corrective measures, such as unifying the security plans of the companies in the petrochemical park, a long-standing demand from the unions and improving The warning systems. Given what happened, there must be a faster introduction of systems that warn people directly through their cell phones, something that is already happening in other countries and is considered under the regulations of the European Union.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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